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Now is the time to strengthen seabird protection, says RSPB

Last modified: 25 June 2015

Puffins on Isle of May nature reserve

Bempton Cliffs is know throughout the UK for its puffin colony

Image: Andy Hay

One of the UK’s largest seabird colonies celebrates 150 years of protection this year and with an increasing number of threats facing seabird colonies in the UK, the RSPB is urging that the laws protecting them are strengthened. 

RSPB Bempton Cliffs, in East Yorkshire, is a Special Protected Area under the Birds and Habitats directives - EU legislation to protect the most important wildlife species and habitats in the UK and Europe. But the 250,000 seabirds that flock to the cliffs at Bempton each year are facing ever increasing threats. 

Disruption to the marine environment is one of the primary threats facing seabirds in Europe. This is largely down to inappropriate developments at sea and the effects of climate change on the marine environment. Increased protection for wildlife at sea is seen as the first step in improving our oceans and helping marine wildlife. 

Although the European Commission’s REFIT ‘fitness check’ of the Birds and Habitats Directives could result in a weakened set of laws protecting UK and European wildlife. The RSPB is one of 100 voluntary organisations across the UK who have raised concerns that the Directives are under threat of being weakened by those who mistakenly regard them as a block on business and economic growth.

Martin Harper, RSPB Conservation Director, said: “The seabird colony at Bempton is spectacular – it’s home to vast numbers of seabirds such as puffins, kittiwakes and gannets which provide an attack on the senses with their sights sounds and smells. It is important that these much loved species are protected by laws from the threats that they are facing.

“The cliffs at Bempton are safeguarded by strong legal designation and the fact they are on a RSPB reserve means it is a protected area – but at sea it is a different story. The areas at sea, where the birds feed, are not protected meaning they are open to many different kinds of threats, such as the application for an addition 360 wind turbines at Hornsea only 89km off the Yorkshire coast.” 

So far over 250,000 people across Europe have signed a pledge to defend nature on the back of the European Commission’s REFIT ‘fitness check’ of the Birds and Habitats Directives – making it the largest European consultation response in history.  

Since RSPB’s Bempton Cliffs new Seabird Centre opened to the public on Good Friday (3 April 2015), 35,000 people have flocked to enjoy the wonders of the cliffs and the wildlife that it is home to.

Speaking today [Thursday 25th April, 2015] at the official opening event, Mike Clarke, RSPB Chief Executive, said: “I’m so pleased and proud to be officially opening the new Seabird Centre at RSPB Bempton Cliffs, which offers some of the most stunning coastal views in the UK. The new centre not only represents the common goal held by our organisation and key partners, to connect more of the general public with the nature that surrounds them, but also a collective effort to make this all possible.”

The EU Directives have provided the highest level of protection to vulnerable habitats and species for the past 30 years – but they are under threat. European leaders are considering rolling back decades of progress by revising the Directives in the mistaken belief that weaker protection for wildlife is good for business. To help defend nature visit: rspb.org.uk/defendnature    

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