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Seabird numbers start to soar again

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​National Trust for Scotland says seabird numbers have gone up, despite recent declines

Seabird species on reserves managed by a conservation charity have bucked recent trends by recording their most successful breeding season for a decade.

The National Trust for Scotland says the increase in numbers is good news, but warned it may only be a blip in a long-term decline, which many ecologists have linked to climate change.

Studies on a trust property at Mingulay showed that there were 1,642 pairs of kittiwakes trying to nest, up 46% since last year.

More importantly, their breeding success, at 88 chicks produced per 100 pairs, was much better than 2013.

After many years of depressing news it is wonderful to see so many species of seabirds having a good year in 2014

Other species, such as razorbill, common guillemot and shag also recorded substantial improvements in both numbers and breeding success.

Studies carried out by the Highland Ringing Group on Canna, in the Small Isles, showed that kittiwakes were up 14% since last year and also had excellent breeding success, similar to its near neighbour Mingulay across the Minch.

Researchers also located five occupied nest burrows of manx shearwaters at three locations around the island.

Shearwaters had been reduced to local extinction on Canna but a successful rat eradication project, completed in 2006, has allowed them to recolonise some former nest sites.

On St Kilda, a World Heritage Site 60km west of the Outer Hebrides managed by the trust, annual monitoring has showed that puffins have had much greater breeding success than in recent years.

A ground breaking programme to study the elusive and little known Leach’s Storm-petrel has been able to take detailed measurements of three chicks that have been reared in artificial nest burrows this year.

On the east coast, the trust’s St Abb's National Nature Reserve has seen good breeding success of kittiwakes and shags, the latter producing 195 chicks per 100 pairs, the highest productivity on record and double that of 2013.

Dr Richard Luxmoore, the trust’s senior nature conservation adviser, said: “After many years of depressing news it is wonderful to see so many species of seabirds having a good year in 2014.

“While this may only prove to be a blip in a long-term decline, it provides a great boost to colony sizes whose effects should be evident for several years to come.”

Bob Swann, of the Highland Ringing Group, who have been running seabird studies on Canna for over 40 years, said: “It was great to see the colonies so full and so noisy this summer. Although we are unlikely to see a return to the peak numbers of the 1980s and 1990s, I’m hopeful that the declines may have stopped and for some species even reversed.”

Scotland is internationally important for its seabirds, having some 45% of the breeding population in the whole of the European Union.

The National Trust for Scotland hosts almost a fifth of these at is properties of St Kilda, Mingulay, Fair Isle, Canna, St Abbs, Iona, Staffa and Unst.



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