Hebrides Today

News from the Western Isles

Kittiwakes could be lost from Islands

Posted by Editor On February - 24 - 2009

THE much loved Kittiwake could be on course to disappear from some of Scotland's most important seabird colonies if current trends continue, according to conservation charity the National Trust for Scotland.


The news comes as the Scottish Parliament prepares for a members debate on seabirds, which will highlight concerns for the future of Scotland's seabirds. Almost a fifth of all the seabirds in Scotland breed on National Trust for Scotland properties.


Since the mid-1980s, kittiwakes have been in decline at Trust colonies including World Heritage Site, St Kilda off the Western Isles and Fair Isle in the Shetland Isles.


At another Trust property - St Abb's Head National Nature Reserve in Berwickshire, the population has dropped from in excess of 19,000 in 1989 to just over 5000 in 2008.


Monitoring on Hebridean islands Canna and Mingulay also found that kittiwakes struggled to breed successfully in 2008.


It is believed that the dramatic drop in population could be down to changes in the food supply, possibly connected to changing climate. A decline in the kittiwake's preferred foodstuff - sandeels - has been traced to warming seas.


Other studies have linked the breeding failure to attempts to feed on snake pipefish, which cannot be easily digested by Kittiwake chicks.


Dr Richard Luxmoore, Senior Nature Conservation Adviser with the Trust, said: "Seabird populations do fluctuate a great deal and it can be hard to draw firm conclusions, but we are certainly concerned by our kittiwake populations. Like many other seabirds, kittiwakes are long-lived, so a few bad breeding seasons might not be catastrophic in the long term. However, sustained seasons of poor breeding are bad news for the survival of this seabird.


"It is difficult to identify the precise causes of population decline but the evidence points towards changes in the food supply. Although the pipefish were less in evidence in 2008, breeding success was still very low with many parents failing to lay eggs at all.


"There is clearly much more work required if we are to understand this complex picture. Kittiwakes are a much-loved feature of our coastal cliffs but if these trends continue their evocative cries may be consigned to folk-memory."


You can join the National Trust for Scotland for as little as £5 per month for a family. To become a member, visit http://www.nts.org.uk/Join/Benefits/.

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