You may have seen media coverage recently about designation of some new Marine Conservation Zones, including around parts of our region’s coast. The RSPB welcomes these. However, we are still concerned that important foraging areas for mobile species, such as our seabirds, are not properly protected and so able to be safeguarded from harmful activities to ensure a safe future for seabirds at sea as well as when they breed on land.

The importance of the south west for some of our region’s seabirds is highlighted in the latest edition of our annual Seabirds South West newsletter . . .

Last summer a team of RSPB staff and volunteers surveyed seabirds on the Isles of Scilly. This all species, all islands count involved a lot of getting off small boats and scrambling onto islands and then counting all the different species including gulls, auks and shags. And for burrow nesting species such as Manx shearwater and storm petrel, it involved monitoring playback responses from underground burrows and night surveys. It was great to report breeding success for both these species on St Agnes and Gugh – islands where the removal of rats by the Isles of Scilly Seabird Recovery Project two years ago has enabled successful breeding for both. Our surveyors found storm petrel chicks on St Agnes for the first time in living memory! The survey found significant increases in numbers of Manx shearwater, guillemot and razorbill on the islands, but sadly significant decreases in kittiwake, common tern, herring and lesser black-backed gull, shag and cormorant. We will now examine the results and see what can be done to restore those species that are decline on the islands, and to ensure that the Isles of Scilly remains a premier seabird site.

Courtesy Ed Marshall

Our Dorset little tern protection project at Chesil Beach had another successful year, enabling the 33 pairs to fledge 34 young – a great result for this delicate bird on its only breeding site in the region.

In August last year RSPB staff and volunteers joined with MARINElife for a synchronised survey of Balearic shearwaters that involved people counting from a series of coast watch points and from boats. This critically endangered seabird visits SW inshore areas over the late summer to early autumn period to feed and we wanted to see how many birds were using inshore waters around our coast and whether any areas were more favoured. We’ll be sharing the results in our next Seabirds South West newsletter.

Courtesy Ed Marshall

And finally we highlighted the problems facing our large gulls. Herring and lesser black-backed gulls nest around the coast and in many inland locations. Unfortunately their presence on roofs sometimes leads to conflict with some people. Both species are of conservation concern. We need to know more about current population numbers and reasons for declines in coastal populations, and examine ways of co-existing with gulls in urban environments. For example, gulls will break open rubbish bags and scatter waste food – but perhaps the solution there is changing our human behaviour so we don’t let so much food go to waste in the first place and put our waste in `gull proof’ containers?