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A healthy start for Seaford's summer seabird spectacular

Last modified: 20 June 2012

Pair of kittiwakes on rock

Image: Andy Hay

One of the South East’s last remaining kittiwake colonies is back and breeding well, the RSPB can reveal.

The first chicks have begun to hatch at Seaford’s Splash Point, East Sussex indicating a successful year for this important seabird colony.

Kittiwakes, medium-sized gulls with black wing tips, only come to shore once a year to breed. The East Sussex cliff-top colony, made up of around 1100 pairs, has become increasing significant in recent years as kittiwakes struggle to breed in strongholds along the coast of northern England, Scotland and Wales.

Declines at these larger colonies are thought to be connected with a lack of sand-eel fish in the seas around the sites, most likely linked to climate change. The sand-eel is the kittiwake’s main food source. Population declines have led to the kittiwake being amber listed as species of conservation concern.

Kate Whitton, Date with Nature project officer at RSPB South East, said: “Sussex’s kittiwake colony seems to be doing well, which is welcome news, especially as their numbers have been declining nationally over the past few years, and another local colony at Newhaven, which has been steadily decreasing over the last few years, has no nesting kittiwakes at all this year.

“But hopefully by the end of next month we should see the Seaford chicks fledge and start swooping over the cliffs and the sea just like their parents.

“Splash Point is an incredible colony to watch. You’ll hear the kittiwakes’ unusual ‘kitti-waaark’ calls, and see countless chicks nesting on ledges so steep they take your breath away.”

Visitors can enjoy Splash Point’s kittiwake colony with the RSPB on several dates between 28 June and 5 August. Binoculars and telescopes will be provided, allowing visitors to get close-up views of the kittiwakes as they raise young.

A Date with Nature at Splash Point comes during a time of crucial lobbying by the RSPB and other conservation bodies for increased protection of seabirds and other marine wildlife.

Most seabird nesting sites are already protected, but the areas where they feed at sea are not, meaning that these species are only generally afforded protection on land.

The UK Government has an international commitment to designate a comprehensive network of marine protected areas by the end of 2012. But the RSPB says that for seabirds, at least, the UK is on course to fail because the number of sites being considered is woefully inadequate and in some cases seabirds are being excluded from the designation process.

Through the Safeguard our sea life campaign, the RSPB and other conservation groups want a coherent network of marine zones to be created and given legal protection to ensure the health of the sea, and the survival of the wildlife that depends on it.

The RSPB’s Date with Nature staff and volunteers will be at the Splash Point viewpoint on 28 June, 25 July, and 1 & 5 August from 10am – 4.30pm, however these dates are weather dependant, so if you are planning a special trip please call ahead.

For more information visit www.rspb.org.uk/datewithnature or call 01273 775333

To get involved with the Safeguard our sea life campaign visit www.rspb.org.uk/marine

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