Sep 302011



Step up and help safeguard our seabirds at sea

The RSPB is asking you to step up and help give our sealife the protection it so desperately needs.

Despite the RSPB’s best efforts, it looks as though some of our most precious sealife, including seabirds, might not benefit directly from the designation of a Marine Protected Area (MPA) network as currently planned for the UK.

The UK is globally renowned for its immense populations of seabirds – including puffins, shearwaters, petrels, kittiwakes, terns and gannets – but the laws to designate marine protected areas in England and Wales are inadequate. Although most seabird nesting sites are already protected, the areas where they feed at sea are not, so these species are only afforded protection on land.

The UK Government has an international commitment to designate a comprehensive network of marine protected areas by the end of 2012. But in the view of the RSPB the UK is on course to fail because the number of sites being considered is woefully inadequate and in some cases seabirds are being excluded from the designation process.

We need to show the Government the strength of support for the proper protection of all our marine wildlife, including seabirds. The RSPB is therefore asking you to “ step up for nature” and support their campaign to ensure seabirds are fully protected  by signing a pledge  urging the UK Government ministers to ensure that seabirds are safeguarded at sea. To sign the pledge visit:

The RSPB will be handing in signed pledges towards the end of November so need to gather as many as possible by then. So please ask anyone you know with an interest in maintaining our vast seabird colonies to sign up.

Jeffrey Kirk

Further facts and figures

  • Every year, just under eight million seabirds from 26 species, such as puffins and terns, come to the shores of the British Isles to breed, often in spectacular colonies. Millions more waders, gulls, divers and sea ducks, winter in and around our coasts and estuaries.
  •  Between 70% – 90% of the global population of Manx shearwaters, 60% of the global population of great skuas, and over 55% of the world’s northern gannets breed in Great Britain. Manx shearwater is the bird species for which the UK is most important in a global context.
  • In the last decade, the number of seabirds breeding round the UK has declined by more than 9% equivalent to a loss of over 600,000 breeding seabirds.
  • At present, less than 2% of the global marine area is under protection.
  • Less than 0.01% of UK waters are under full protection from all damaging activities.


The seas and oceans around the UK are very important for marine wildlife, with over half of the UK’s biodiversity to be found in our seas. They are home to weird and wonderful creatures as diverse as cold water corals and deep sea sponge gardens, to seahorses and the second largest fish in the world, the basking shark. We have a good track record in the UK of protecting wildlife on land, but protection of marine wildlife has lagged behind. So while we protect seabirds at their breeding colonies on land we currently do not protect them at sea, where they spend most of their lives, and which they depend upon for food

We have had fantastic support over the last decade for our long-running campaign for the introduction of new marine legislation for better protection and management of the UK’s marine environment, and in particular, our calls for the introduction of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) to protect our marine wildlife, including seabirds.

In 2009 and 2010 we saw some real successes as the UK Marine & Coastal Access Act, and the Marine (Scotland) Act were introduced. Since the introduction of these new laws we have been working very hard to get MPAs designated in English, Welsh and Scottish waters. We are also continuing the campaign in Northern Ireland for the introduction of new marine legislation that includes provision for the designation of MPAs in Northern Irish waters.

Frequently asked questions

What will you do with my signature?

We will send all signatures collected to the relevant Minister in November. If you live in England, Scotland or Wales we will ensure that the government ministers responsible for the designation of protected sites are aware of the strength of support for our campaign.

Why are our seabirds running out of sand eels, and how will designating MPAs for seabirds help?

Many of our breeding seabird species e.g. kittiwake are dependent to varying degrees on the sand eel for feeding their brood. In the recent years, in the North Sea in particular, sand eels have been very scarce and the lack of this important food source has led to terrible breeding conditions for many of our seabirds.

The main culprit appears to be climate change affecting sea temperature, which affects everything that lives in the sea. Warmer waters throughout the North Sea in recent years have led to a shift in the type and a drop in the availability of plankton (the microscopic plants and animals that form the bottom of the marine food-chain) – which is food for the sand eels. The lack of food for the sand eels has in turn led to smaller populations of sand eels being available as food for the seabirds – and the sand eels that are available are in worse condition, and so do not provide as much nutritional value for the seabirds and their chicks during the all-important breeding season.

Designating MPAs will help to reduce the other pressures on marine wildlife including sand eels and seabird populations. Climate change is likely to be one of the major pressures on our marine wildlife in future years, and so it is even more necessary that we designate MPAs now, to help marine wildlife stay resilient to such changes.

“In their worst year so far, three out of four kittiwake nests failed to fledge any young” – when was this and have things been better since?

The worst year around the UK in terms of productivity for breeding kittiwakes was 2008, when average productivity around the UK as monitored by the Seabird Monitoring Programme (SMP) hit 0.25% – so that only one chick was fledged for every 4 nests (or in other words, on average across the UK, three out of four kittiwake nests failed to fledge any young).

What activities would the RSPB want to stop inside MPAs for seabirds?

We would want to see MPAs designated to maintain or recover the numbers of seabirds or the prey of seabirds found there. Depending on the objective of the site, we would want to see all activities that could hinder the maintenance of seabird populations, or their recovery from previous declines, either stopped or managed carefully so as to minimize any negative effects on seabirds. This might include for example controls on fishing to minimise the likelihood of seabird bycatch in fishing gear, or to stop the remove of prey species such as sand eels. In other sites, there might be restrictions on entry into or activities in a site to minimise the disturbance caused to seabirds using the area.

Will the RSPB be campaigning for fishing to be banned in all MPAs?

Fishing can have very severe impacts on the marine environment and marine wildlife, including seabirds. However we do not believe that it will be necessary to ban fishing activity in all MPAs. Our policy is that where fisheries activities are not causing harm to site features they should be allowed to continue with caution.

National sites in England (other countries have their own sites) –

A network of Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) is being designated.  Four Regional Projects are operating around the coast of England: Finding Sanctuary in the south west, Irish Sea Conservation Zones in the north west, Net Gain in the north east, and Balanced Seas in the south east.

These Regional Projects bring together the full range of marine stakeholders to discuss possible locations for MCZs, and put forward suggestions based on scientific guidance from the various statutory agencies.  In the autumn the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will consider the MCZs proposed for designation by the Regional Projects and decide if the proposed sites create an ecologically coherent network. In 2012 there will be a public consultation on a draft network of MCZs and following responses, the English network of MCZs will be designated by the end of 2012.

 Posted by on 30 September 2011 at 4:10 pm