UK breeding seabirds are under threat from a triple whammy of extreme weather, predators and human disturbance, the National Trust has revealed.
The conservation organisation has carried out an extensive study of seabird sites along its 742 miles of coastline to evaluate the importance of National Trust locations for seabirds and to recognise the issues that impact breeding success.
The new report calls for more regular monitoring to help detect any changes in seabird colonies and a greater awareness of human impact on breeding populations.
The biggest potential threat to seabirds was found to be the effect of extreme weather, such as in Blakeney, Norfolk, this winter when the severe tidal surges forced more than half of the little terns to nest in low areas. The high tides that followed in mid-June caused the nests to flood, resulting in a very poor breeding season.
Little terns at Long Nanny in Northumberland were also under threat and National Trust rangers spent three months, between May and August, providing a 24 hour watch on the nesting birds by camping next to their breeding site.
Predators, such as rats, foxes and mink, were also identified as a problem at nearly all sites. The managed removal of predators is now a priority for the Trust and more regular monitoring will help to detect any issues early on.
The third most common risk to breeding success was found to be human disturbance by walkers and their pets. If nests are disturbed it can displace seabirds, leaving the young vulnerable to predators. However, even if they are not displaced, seabirds can become stressed when disturbed which can greatly impact their wellbeing.
The National Trust is therefore encouraging walkers and visitors to the coast to be aware of the potential impact of disturbing nesting seabirds during the breeding season. Dr David Bullock, Head of Nature Conservation at the National Trust, said: “Seabirds are part of what makes out coastline so special.
“Our emotional connection with these birds, along with what they tell us about the health of our seas, means that it is vital for us to look after the places where they nest.”