The study, which looked at seabird colonies on coastline we look after, cites extreme weather as the most dominant threat to breeding seabirds.
Severe tidal surges in Blakeney in Norfolk during the winter changed the profile of the beach forcing more than half of the little terns to nest in low areas. The high tides that followed in mid-June caused the nests to flood meaning only 10 chicks fledged from 108 breeding pairs.
Predation from rats, foxes and mink is also a problem at nearly all seabird sites we care for. In 2001 Manx shearwaters on Lundy Island, Devon, were barely able to breed because of the threat from predators.
Human disturbance by walkers and their pets is the third most common risk to the breeding success of seabirds. If nests are disturbed it can displace seabirds, leaving their young vulnerable to predators, or distress them, which can greatly impact their wellbeing.
Tackling the problems
Little terns at Long Nanny in Northumberland faced a similar threat to those in Blakeney so our rangers spent three months between May and August keeping a 24 hour watch on the nesting birds by camping next to their breeding site.
The managed removal of predators from Lundy Island (in partnership with the RSPB, Natural England and the Landmark Trust) meant that by 2004 the Manx shearwaters had made a spectacular recovery and this approach is now a priority for us.
We’re committed to improving coastal access for walkers so nesting seabirds aren’t disturbed and are hoping to raise awareness among walkers and visitors to the coast of the impact of disturbing nesting seabirds.
More action is needed
We studied seabird colonies along the 742 miles of coastline we look after in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to investigate the issues affecting their breeding success and to evaluate the importance of our coastal locations for seabirds.
We’re calling for more regular monitoring of seabird colonies along our entire coastline so that any changes, which can happen over a short period of time, can be identified, addressed and managed more effectively.
‘Seabirds are part of what makes the British and Irish coastline so special,’ said Dr David Bullock, our Head of Nature Conservation. ‘Our emotional connection with these birds along with what they tell us about the health of our seas means that it is vital for us to look after the places where they nest.’