Blog post by Ellie Owen, Conservation Scientist, RSPB Centre for Conservation Science
I was really pleased to see the recent article in the Observer giving much-needed attention to the catastrophic declines in seabird numbers in Shetland, one of the UK’s seabird hotspots.
It painted a vivid picture of the scale of declines and the frightening speed at which the cliffs have gone from glorious guano-painted, noisy, seabird metropolises to eerily quiet dapplings of birds clinging on to the place where they have bred for their whole adult lives.
The stark figures should be a wakeup call to all of us, I know they are to me, and I work on seabirds!
There are lots of ways to help Shetland's puffins
Some readers of the article have rightly spotted that one of the figures in the article was not quite right.
The article said “In 2000, there were more than 33,000 puffins on the island in early spring. That figure dropped to 570 last year and there are no signs of any recovery this year, although it is still early in the season.”
This data comes from a census that was carried out by the RSPB’s Project Puffin but unfortunately it needed a little more context.
The actual result was that we surveyed 20 sites in Shetland and those sites had held 33,000 individual puffins on land at the time of the last count in 2000 but we only found 570 in those same areas in 2017.
The actual number of puffins across the whole of Shetland has experienced a serious decline but the number still living there is much much higher than 570 birds.
We wanted to check our findings with other scientists and so have written a scientific paper which has been reviewed by peers and will be printed later this year in the Journal Scottish Birds so keep an eye out for that if you want to find out more about the conservation fortunes of Puffins in Shetland.
How you can help
Meanwhile you might be thinking what can you do to help seabirds on Shetland, and you may have felt quite pessimistic after reading the article. Here are some of my optimistic suggestions:
But most of all, get out there and see some seabirds, be enthused and tell the world how great the UK and Shetland are as global seabird Meccas.