Thu 1 Sep 2005
Climate change blamed as birds fail to breed
SEABIRDS have suffered an appalling breeding season around much of
Scotland's coast, research from three of the country's leading
conservation organisations has shown.
Drastic reductions in the number of sand eels, the staple food source
of many birds, has caused major failures of certain species.
Experts on reserves run by the Royal Society for the Protection of
Birds (RSPB), National Trust for Scotland (NTS) and Scottish Wildlife
Trust say the problem has spread this year to western reserves such
as those on Tiree, St Kilda and Canna.
Guillemots, razorbills and Arctic tern have been hard hit, with the
most recent survey on Tiree showing only four guillemot chicks at
Ceann a' Mhara, from a total of 2,173 birds. In a normal year, there
would be about 1,500 chicks in this colony.
On St Kilda, owned and run by the NTS, there was a spectacular
breeding failure for puffins, with only 26 per cent of burrows
producing chicks, compared with a normal figure of 71 per cent.
The kittiwake colony on Canna was another notable casualty, with
barely five chicks fledged out of a population of 1,000 pairs.
For the first time, conservation groups believe climate change may be
a significant factor in the lack of breeding success, as it has a
major influence on Scotland's sea systems and, consequently, on the
In broad terms, it seems the species that nest early, such as certain
types of gull, fared best, and those that breed later, such as
kittiwakes, Arctic terns, guillemots, razorbills and puffins, fared
worst. This year the shortage of sand eels has forced some species to
find alternative food sources, including juvenile white fish, such as
pollock, which are less nutritious for chicks.
Stuart Housden, the director of RSPB Scotland, said: "We need to
monitor closely their feeding habits to see what effect this has on
their breeding success in future. This is the first time the west has
been affected and we can only speculate as to why, but climate change
must be considered as a factor."
He went on: "Seabirds are excellent barometers of the state of the
marine environment, and we must do all we can to conserve these
Richard Luxmoore, the head of nature conservation at the NTS,
said: "Scotland has around 45 per cent of all the seabirds in the EU
nesting on its coasts and we have an international responsibility to
care for them."