November 2008

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | UK Bird News | Bird News for United Kingdom 2008 |  November 2008

Big trouble for UK and Icelandic seabirds

Analysis of this year's seabird breeding data on RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) coastal reserves shows that Black-legged Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla, Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea and Parasitic Jaeger Stercorarius parasiticus – more commonly known as Arctic Skua - have had a terrible season, with virtually no chicks reared to fledging in the far north of the UK. Changes in food supply, which may be linked to climate change, could threaten the future of these species in the UK.
The UK is internationally important for seabirds. Scotland alone is home to over three million seabirds, which is around 45% of the European Union’s breeding seabird population.
Earlier this year, the RSPB issued a grave prognosis for the breeding season. Many internationally-important colonies had abandoned nests, and empty cliffs which should have been teeming with tens of thousands of seabirds were very quiet.
The new RSPB data confirm that many northern species have suffered major collapses in breeding success. Worryingly, the evidence again suggests that repeated annual breeding failures are now substantially reducing populations of those species worst affected.
While Black-legged Kittiwakes, Arctic Terns and Arctic Skuas have been hit very hard and face important declines, some other seabird species appear to be weathering the storm on RSPB reserves. Great Skua Catharacta skua, Northern Gannet Morus bassanus and Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo have experienced modest increases in their numbers, while Herring Gull Larus argentatus have remained stable.
Although direct evidence is still lacking, increased winter sea surface temperatures disrupting the food chain are thought to be driving the declines. Douglas Gilbert, an ecologist with RSPB Scotland, said: "RSPB reserves are acting as an indicator of the wider fortunes of seabirds around our coasts. The outlook for some species such as Arctic Skua, Black-legged Kittiwake and Arctic Tern is dire, and there are problems with other species like Common Guillemot Uria aalge and Atlantic Puffin Fratercula arctica in some areas too. Unless conditions change to allow these birds the chance of successful breeding, the long-term future for them is bleak. The evidence that this is linked to changes in sea surface temperatures is now growing”.
Icelandic seabirds are also experiencing similar problems. Fuglavernd (BirdLife in Iceland) reports that many seabirds have had extremely bad breeding seasons over the last four years. Icelandic seabird declines have coincided with a period of rapid increases in sea temperature - especially in south and west Iceland which is most exposed to the warming waters of the Gulfstream.
As in the UK, species which have suffered most are Arctic Terns, Black-legged Kittiwake, Atlantic Puffin, Great Skua and Northern Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis. Due to climate change, 18 new bird species have arrived in Iceland since the 19th Century.
Konstantin Kreiser, EU Policy Manager at the BirdLife European Division, commented: "This is an especially shocking example showing how urgently we have to strengthen our complex ecosystems in times of climate change. If governments do not take action against overfishing, pollution and greenhouse gases, we will face many more terrible surprises"
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Credits: RSPB (BirdLife in UK), Fuglavernd (BirdLife in Iceland)

RSPB urges swift action to restore threatened farmland birds

The UK government has revealed that the populations of some iconic countryside birds fell last year to their lowest levels since 1970. The RSPB (BirdLife in UK) believes that following the removal of set-aside earlier this year, further declines in farmland birds are inevitable. The Society is urging the government to take swift action to restore the fortunes of these birds.
The UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs recently published data revealing further declines in the overall numbers of farmland birds across the UK. Analysis of the figures reveals that the collective population of farmland birds, including Grey Partridge Perdix perdix, Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus and European Turtle-dove Streptopelia turtur, has fallen to less than half of the level in 1970.
Gareth Morgan, RSPB’s lead agricultural policy officer, commented: “the further drop in the numbers of some farmland birds is deeply troubling. This is a credit crunch for birds. We know the general intensification of farming, driven by the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), has accounted for the majority of the historic decline in farmland birds, but with good conservation support now available for farmers this year’s results are dismaying”.
“Todays shock results provide a clarion call of the need to stave off further declines of farmland birds. In partnership with farmers we need to ensure the best wildlife-friendly farming techniques are used to give our farmland birds the greatest chance of survival”.
In light of these figures, the RSPB is calling for more farm subsidies to be diverted to environmental schemes around the UK and for better use to be made of the resources already available.
The RSPB is particularly concerned about further declines of farmland birds that will inevitably be triggered by the scrapping of set-aside earlier this year. This measure took farmland out of agricultural food production and provided beneficial habitats for many farmland birds.
Gareth Morgan added: "the declines in farmland birds reported today do not include those that will be lost because of the scrapping of set-aside. Unless compensatory measures can be put in place to cover the void left by the removal of set-aside, farmland birds will continue to slide, putting even more extreme pressure on some populations”.
Since 1999, the RSPB has owned a 181 hectare farm in Cambridgeshire. This farm is among the best farms for profitability in the region and here the population of farmland birds has bucked the national trend. Between 2000-2007 the numbers of farmland birds doubled in the RSPB's farm whilst numbers in the wider UK landscape dropped by around 6%.
Gareth Morgan added: “using the measures available to all farmers, the RSPB has proved that combining productive farming with rising numbers of farmland birds is easily achievable. We are eager to share our knowledge and successes with other farmers to put bird song back into the countryside”.
Ariel Brunner, EU Agriculture Policy Officer at BirdLife European Division commented: “the situation in the UK clearly shows how utterly ineffective the current CAP is in dealing with the environmental crisis affecting our countryside. Agri-environmental schemes are severely underfunded while over-intensification is proceeding unchecked. Unfortunately, as the recent abolition of set-aside shows, EU decision-makers keep ignoring scientific evidence and prefer to keep accommodating the vested interests of the minority of farmers that pocket most EU subsidies without delivering the public goods society needs”.

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | UK Bird News | Bird News for United Kingdom 2008 |  November 2008

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