Print page

Last chance to secure protection for UK's rare seabirds

Last modified: 12 October 2016

Puffin on the Isle of May


Image: Andy Hay

·         Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) around England’s seas and coasts currently offer no protection for our globally important seabird populations.

·         The Government’s third and final phase of designating new MCZs will be consulted on in 2017, meaning this is the last chance to secure protection for seabirds.

·         The RSPB is asking for one site to be designated as a new MCZ and five sites that are already MCZs to either be extended for important seabird colonies or include seabirds as the list of species they’re designated for.

·         Over 25% of coastal breeding birds have been identified as globally threatened or severely declining and are of the highest conservation priority meaning urgent action is needed if we’re to turn the tide on seabird fortunes.

 Europe’s largest conservation charity is warning that better protection at sea is critical if we are going to halt the decline of the UK’s rarest seabirds.

 As the UK Government considers the designation of new MCZs for mobile wildlife such as dolphins, turtles and fish, the RSPB is urging them to consider designating six areas of sea as MCZs in order to provide a safe haven in the most important places for puffins, kittiwakes and other iconic seabirds to thrive.

 Marine Conservation Zones are areas around England’s seas and coasts that protect a range of nationally important, rare or threatened habitats and species. Existing MCZs offer protection for the creatures that live on the sea bed, but there is nothing in place to help the seabirds which rely on these waters. To species such as puffins and razorbill, areas like Lundy (off the coast of Devon) and the Cumbria coast are integral feeding grounds, therefore need protecting to ensure these beautiful birds are not lost to us.

 Martin Harper, RSPB’s Director of Conservation, said: “The UK’s coastline is of immense value to wildlife and people. An estimated 270 million day trips are made to our seaside each year and it’s always been an important and exciting place for people to explore and relax in. Almost half of all UK wildlife can be found here, with everything from mammals, minibeasts and plants making their home on the coast, and the seas surrounding our islands are vital for our seabirds.

 “On land, English nesting seabirds are protected from human activities such as development and disturbance. However, when they leave their colonies and travel out to sea, most of the vital areas they use for feeding, preening and resting are not currently safeguarded in the same way.

 “It was previously believed to be impossible to identify areas of sea that should be protected for seabirds but our innovative seabird tracking work has identified the areas they go back to again and again to forage for food for themselves and their chicks. It’s vital the government act now to protect seabirds at sea to help halt the alarming decline that’s already happening.”

 The UK’s rich waters provide feeding grounds for millions of seabirds with hungry chicks, including some of the most important seabird colonies in the world. But according to the recent State of Nature 2016 report, over 25% of coastal breeding birds are red-listed as birds of highest conservation priority in the UK meaning they require urgent action.

 Jeff Knott, RSPB’s Head of Nature Policy, said: “Despite the UK Government committing to create a network of MCZs by 2016 that protect the full wealth of the UK’s marine environment, there are currently only 50 MCZs designated in waters around England- less than half of the recommended 127 sites proposed in 2011- and disappointingly none of these MCZs provide any direct protection for our important seabird populations.”

 The existing 50 MCZs were designated in two phases following consultation processes. The UK Government also announced that a third and final phase of designating new MCZs will be consulted on in 2017, and designated in 2018, with the aim of completing the UK “Blue Belt”. 

 Martin continued: “It’s crucial that as well as protecting the sea creatures below the surface, we safeguard our wonderful wildlife above.

 "We believe protected conservation areas are a vital tool to secure a future for our seabirds and help make colonies more resilient to the threats they face such as the impacts of climate change.”


How you can help

Current proposals to create marine protected areas in the waters of each country offer almost no protection for seabirds. With the support of people like you, we can continue to fight for better protection for our seas.