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Seabird breeding numbers rise in Scotland after decline

Experts warn the numbers are still a long way from the high figures of the 1980s.

Seabirds: Threatened by extreme weather.
Seabirds: Threatened by extreme weather.

The number of Scotland's breeding seabirds has increased, according to new figures.

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) said its statistics show the number of chicks produced in 2017 was higher than the average over the last three decades.

Experts cautioned that numbers are still a long way from the high figures of the 1980s however, and said it is too early to say what effect the extreme weather of the 'beast from the east' will have on seabird populations.

SNH's trends and indicator analyst, Simon Foster, said: "We're still a long way from reaching the high numbers of the 1980s and 1990s.

"It's possible we may never see the same level as in the past, but it's promising to see small increases instead of decreases over the last few years.

"The number of chicks produced was higher than the average over the past three decades.

"As seabirds are long-lived and don't start breeding until they're three or four years old, it's still too early to say if these birds will return to bolster colonies.

"It's also too early to say what effect the 'beast from the east' will have for Scotland's seabirds, though we do know that some of our breeding seabirds will have died in the storm."

Breeding success increased last year for Arctic terns, black-legged kittiwakes, common terns, little terns, northern gannets and sandwich terns.

However, the overall long-term picture for seabirds is one of decline.

A report by the heritage body assessed 12 types of breeding seabirds, which were found to have declined by an average of 62% from the level in 1986, due to factors such as lower numbers of sand eels and non-native predators.

Mr Foster added: "Right now, the national census of all our seabirds is ongoing, and I'd encourage anyone with an interest in conserving our seabirds to get involved.

"From counting the big colonies of gannets to tallying small numbers of gulls, it all adds to our pool of knowledge and helps us know what's needed to conserve seabirds in the future."

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