Seabird tracking hailed as ‘powerful’ conservation tool

Guillemots were among the birds fitted with GPS. Picture: Contributed
Guillemots were among the birds fitted with GPS. Picture: Contributed
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Conservationists have welcomed a “major step forward” in attempts to safeguard some of Scotland’s most important seabird populations, thanks to a satellite-tracking project.

For the first time, researchers have monitored the movements of more than 1,300 breeding seabirds, showing where they go to feed.

The data, collated by the RSPB in conjunction with 
scientists, has been hailed by the charity as “a powerful tool to help protect birds from potentially harmful activities at sea”.

It is hoped the data will allow conservationists to protect threatened species by assessing potential risks from the likes of offshore wind farms and pollution.

In the study, which tracked and modelled the behaviour of 
kittiwakes, shags, razorbills and guillemots, GPS tags were fitted to the birds, tracking where they went once they left breeding colonies.

The data was used to create
computer models to predict important areas at sea for 
other colonies where no tracking took place, estimating where birds travelled from some 5,500 breeding sites. With post-Brexit fishing 
policies a key issue, the 
analysis provides critical data to inform marine management, the experts said.

Dr Mark Bolton, the RSPB principal conservation 
scientist, said: “Our rich and diverse marine environment makes Britain and Ireland among the greatest areas in the world for seabirds and this new research is further 
evidence of just how important our seas are for seabirds and their chicks during the breeding season.”

The four species studied require conservation help, with kittiwake numbers declining 71 per cent in the past 25 years and shag populations down 61 per cent, meaning both seabirds are “red-listed”. .

The lead author of the research, Dr Ewan Wakefield, from the University of Glasgow, said: “For the first time, this study provides us with a full map for each breeding colony of the feeding areas for some of our most important seabird species.

“That means we can now protect the places these birds catch the fish they need to feed their hungry chicks, securing the future generations of these amazing creatures.”