Pioneering research used to track protected species
Scientists at RSPB have produced new maps identifying marine hotspots for some of our most threatened seabirds.
A five-year RSPB project previously tracked the movements of kittiwakes, guillemots, razorbills and shags from colonies around the UK during the breeding season.
This is an important time for seabird colonies as parents search for food to feed their young. The RSPB has now applied hotspot mapping techniques to these data to identify the most important areas used during this crucial time.
The four seabird species are all classed as birds of conservation concern: guillemots and razorbill are Amber-listed while shag and kittiwake are both Red-listed due to their serious population declines.
These seabirds are found in internationally important numbers in Scotland but are under threat from climate change, which is causing a reduction in the availability of their food, and also from human activity.
Dr Ian Cleasby, lead author of the research, said: “The sight and sound of hundreds of thousands of seabirds flocking to our shores is an amazing natural spectacle and something that we must help protect for future generations to enjoy.
“The results from this research provides better evidence that allows us to identify important areas of sea that should be part of protected areas and help to improve how we plan for development at sea to reduce conflicts between the needs of our seabirds and human activities at sea.”
Four different hotspot mapping techniques were trialled during the project and provide a range of potential areas that could be considered for formal protection. The researchers recommend that the choice of hotspot identification methods should be informed by considering species ecology alongside conservation goals to ensure hotspots are of sufficient size to protect target populations.
Charles Nathan, RSPB Scotland head of planning and development said: “This research can help to direct development to areas where the risks to nature are lowest and focus conservation efforts to where they can best boost the recovery and resilience of our seabirds.
“This is particularly important at a time when we need to significantly increase electricity generation from technologies such as offshore wind to decarbonise Scotland’s energy system and help Scotland become a net-zero society.”