New legislation is ‘first step’ towards saving Scotland’s iconic seabird species

RSPB Scotland has today welcomed the Scottish Government’s decision to designate 14 draft Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for seabirds and 30 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) to safeguard Scotland’s marine environments.

These announcements are a first step towards creating a network of protected areas necessary to conserve seabirds, and halt the decline of some of Scotland’s internationally important seabird populations.

According to the Government’s own figures, nine of the 11 seabird species for which a trend can be calculated have shown sustained declines since 1986. Arctic skuas have plummeted by 80%, Arctic terns by 72% and kittiwakes by 68%. Protecting the nesting and feeding areas of seabirds is a requirement of the EU Birds Directive passed in 1979. The UK and Scotland have lagged behind other countries in designating appropriate areas for protection.

A recent report by RSPB Scotland identified key sites to be designated as SPAs for seabirds, which were essential for the Scottish Government to meet its conservation obligations. The wildlife charity welcomes the 14 sites announced today as a significant first step, but they say more work is required, particularly to rapidly identify key offshore feeding areas vital for the long term survival of Scotland’s seabird heritage.

Of the 30 MPAs designated, six are for black guillemots, three are for sandeels, which are an important food source for seabirds, and one is the Firth of Forth, which is a crucial seabird feeding area.

Stuart Housden, Director of RSPB Scotland, said: “Today’s announcements are welcome news for Scotland’s incredibly charismatic seabirds, which have been in desperate need of protected areas for decades. It is also a testament to the thousands of RSPB Scotland supporters who have campaigned tirelessly for better protection of seabirds over the last ten years.

“The designation of draft Special Protection Areas is an excellent first step on what will be a long journey towards securing a healthy marine environment in Scotland. However, the real test will be how well these sites are protected and managed to help restore Scotland’s seabird populations. Although we are now at last making progress in protecting key areas, our seabirds are still without the protection they need further out at sea where they feed. The Scottish Government must bring forward more SPAs for seabirds soon and also recognise the value of MPAs for other seabirds like razorbills, kittiwakes and Arctic terns.

“A number of crucially important areas, for example parts of the outer Firth of Forth, have not yet been protected for seabirds, despite their enormous value to gannets, kittiwakes and other species. Worryingly this is the same area being scoped for large scale offshore wind development. We will not stand idly by and let such areas be damaged. RSPB Scotland looks forward to continuing working with the Government to finish the designation job, enhance the seas around our coasts and restore our seabird and marine wildlife heritage.”