RSPB Scotland is championing six areas of sea around important seabird colonies to be designated as Marine Protected Areas. The waters directly around seabird colonies are important to our most familiar sea-faring species like puffins and kittiwakes - this is where they preen, wash, clean and carry out courtship. The Scottish Government has already protected the waters under 31 internationally important 'seabird cities' but our nationally-important colonies of seabirds remain unprotected when they head out to sea.
We hoped that when the Marine (Scotland) Act came into force in 2010, these vital areas for 'Scottish specialties' would be among the first to be proposed as Marine Protected Areas (or MPAs). Unfortunately, seabirds have been largely ignored in this process - causing great concern to RSPB and our members. So we are taking matters into our own hands. The Marine Act allows any 'third party' to submit proposals for MPAs. We are calling on the Scottish Government to include RSPB's six hotspots in a list of MPAs presented to the Scottish Parliament at the end of the year - and then these proposed sites will be open for public consultation in 2013.
Seabirds in Trouble
RSPB Scotland has been reporting declines in seabird numbers on our reserves for several years now, with the far north particularly badly affected. Some species have been hit especially hard - kittiwakes declined by around 30% between 2000 and 2010. It appears that climate change is driving some significant changes in the marine environment, and that this is having knock-on effects for top predators like seabirds. It is essential that we build as much resilience as we can in to seabird populations in the face of oceanographic change and other man-made impacts - and MPAs are a vital tool which can help do just that.
Not just for birds
Ensuring that we have healthy seabird populations is not just in the interest of the birds themselves or the broader marine environment - it is to the benefit of local communities. A recent economic report by the RSPB 'The Local Value of Seabirds' showed that seabird spectacles can bring significant income to rural areas. This report showed that £115,000 of visitor cash spent in the area was attributable to the seabirds on the cliffs at the Mull of Galloway - an RSPB reserve and one of the areas where we are looking to boost marine protection.
A start to saving seabirds at sea
Even if we succeed in getting these six areas designated as MPAs, we have a long way to go before Scotland and the UK fulfill their promise to create a comprehensive network of protected areas, including sites to protect for seabirds at sea. Unfortunately, key feeding areas for our seabirds would still be unprotected from overfishing and badly placed development. But we must start somewhere to save some of Scotland's most iconic species and best wildlife spectacles- and when healthy seabird populations bring benefits to local communities as well as the birds themselves, who can argue against them? Help us fight for better protection for our seabirds at sea by signing our marine pledge: www.rspb.org.uk/marine