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.
The new research, published in the journal Biological Conservation, demonstrates the large areas of sea used by seabirds and comes at a time when there is a vital need to understand more about them as decisions are being made relating to fishing, offshore wind farms and how we can best protect our seas.
The mapping reveals that for kittiwakes, guillemots and razorbills, the importance of the Scottish coast (particularly the East coast) was apparent. For shags, hotspots were smaller than observed in the other three species and were typically found in inshore coastal waters centred on the locations of their breeding colonies.
The results highlight the importance of large areas of Scottish waters for breeding seabirds demonstrating the urgent need, alongside effectively managed protected areas, for strategic, spatial marine planning and standardised industry-level regulations, to protect wide-ranging seabird species particularly in the context of increased efforts to decarbonise energy generation in Scottish waters.