SEABIRDS at a number of Scotland’s internationally-important colonies face extinction after suffering another poor breeding season, a conservation charity has warned.
RSPB Scotland is calling on the Scottish Government to act quickly to provide a lifeline to protect certain species, particularly common guillemots, razorbills and puffins.
To date, only the black guillemot is listed in government proposals, leaving species like common guillemot, kittiwake, arctic skua and razorbills, unprotected at sea.
Challenges include a shortage of food and the effects of climate change, the charity claims.
A lack of action, it says, will leave Scotland’s once-bustling and noisy seabird “cities” in danger of being silenced.
The warning comes after end-of-season counts at the RSPB’s coastal reserves found some species declining dramatically.
Recent counts carried out on the RSPB reserve at Noup Cliffs on Orkney reveal a 41 per cent fall in numbers of the common guillemot since the last seabird census in 2000.
Dunnet Head on the Caithness coast saw a decline of about 45 per cent, from 8,980 to just 4,880 since 2000, while common guillemots on Ailsa Craig in the Firth of Clyde have suffered a decline of more than 27 per cent over the same period.
Allan Whyte, marine policy officer at RSPB Scotland, said: “Scotland is home to 24 species of breeding seabird and it is baffling that the Scottish Government chooses to ignore all but one when designating Marine Protected Areas [MPAs]. Puffins, kittiwakes, common guillemots and the rest are struggling to survive these tough times.
“The Scottish Government can and must throw these birds a lifeline and designate MPAs to protect this amazing group of species in danger of disappearing from our coasts.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said it was seeking further information regarding MPAs.
He said: “The Scottish Government has asked Scottish Natural Heritage and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee to provide formal advice regarding what additional Marine Special Protection Areas are required for the conservation of seabirds, and this is expected to be received at the end of 2013.
“Also we are protecting a number of sand eel habitats which will help protect a vital food source of most seabirds.
“Other measures being taken that assist in the conservation of seabirds include the control of non-native species, surveys of seabirds at sea and continued monitoring of sites. Seabirds are already well represented in the network through Special Protection Areas.”
In contrast with its close cousin, the black guillemot appears to be doing well, with colony counts in the northern isles in particular showing good productivity.
Black guillemots are included in the government’s MPA proposals because they don’t migrate. The rest of Scotland’s 24 breeding seabird species do migrate, so they qualify for protection under European designations like Special Protection Areas.