2016 saw further recovery of several seabird species in south west England, showing that targeted evidence-based conservation action works. The ongoing commitment of organisations and individuals, especially volunteers, is vital in this.

In Dorset little terns had their best breeding season with 71 chicks fledged from Chesil Beach. The Dorset Little Tern Recovery Project carefully guarded the colony day and night to deter natural predators and prevent people accidentally disturbing the terns, and the birds were further helped by carefully placing their vulnerable eggs onto specially designed `sand pots’ so they were insulated from the chilling effect of draughty pebbles. More than 30 local volunteers are involved in the project and will swing into action when the little terns return next spring.

Since rats were eradicated from Lundy in 2006 and from St Agnes and Gugh, Isles of Scilly, in 2014, burrow-nesting seabirds have been able to hatch eggs and rear chicks safely without them being eaten by these non-native rodents. Manx shearwaters have increased tenfold on Lundy with nearly 3,500 pairs recorded in 2013 and there are now at least 100 pairs of puffin breeding. In 2014 storm petrels were confirmed breeding successfully again, and nocturnal survey work in summer 2016 estimated at least 10 pairs and probably more. Meanwhile, on the Isles of Scilly, 32 Manx shearwater chicks were recorded `star gazing’ outside their burrows in preparation for their long migration to south America on fledging, and six storm petrel chicks were heard.

Eternal vigilance is the key to keeping these islands rat-free into the future, and biosecurity measures to minimise the risk of rat reintroduction are carried out on Lundy and on St Agnes & Gugh. Resident community volunteers are central to this on the Isles of Scilly and the RSPB will continue to support them. In early 2017 we’ll be training a team of RSPB staff and volunteer `rapid responders’ so that, should rats ever be detected on these islands, they can quickly be returned to a rat-free status.

Whilst RSPB, partner organisations and volunteers and local communities can keep breeding seabirds safe on land, we need to ensure that their foraging areas at sea are safeguarded too. That’s why the RSPB is campaigning for inclusion of seabirds in Marine Conservation Zones.

Read all about it here . . . and if you want to help seabirds, please join the RSPB or find out how you can volunteer to help.