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Breeding Seabird National Censuses

In addition to the annual monitoring scheme (SMP), JNCC lead, in association with other SMP partners, on the development and completion of periodic breeding seabird censuses across Britain and Ireland. To date, there have been three breeding seabird censuses completed for Britain and Ireland: Operation Seafarer, Seabird Colony Register and Seabird 2000. Surveys from the fourth, Seabirds Count, will be completed by the end of the 2020 breeding season.

Regular counts at a sample of colonies provide robust trends, which help highlight problems, but we also require entire population censuses to add context and help to identify why changes might be happening. Additionally, conducting periodic censuses allow us to test the accuracy of SMP annual monitoring trends and they also give us the opportunity to understand how breeding seabird populations might be changing on a spatial scale. This is especially important when considering inland and urban breeding species, which are rarely monitored annually.


Seabirds Count (2015-2020)

Seabirds Count was developed by the SMP partnership and is coordinated by JNCC and is likely to be completed at the end of the 2020 breeding season. This census will provide essential information on our internationally important breeding seabird populations. Such knowledge will deliver greater insight into the relationships between our seabird populations and the pressures they face, ultimately allowing mitigation of their effects.

However, the census is no small task - with over 10,000 sites and 25 species to survey, we need all the help we can get. If you think you could spare some time to survey a site (or a few!), please get in touch via email. You can also follow the progress of the census by following the @JNCC_UKseabirds account on Twitter and by using #SeabirdsCount.


Previous Censuses

Operation Seafarer (1969-1970)

Coverpage of The Seabirds of Britain and IrelandThe results of Operation Seafarer are published in: Cramp, S., Bourne, W.R.P. & Sanders, D. 1974. The Seabirds of Britain and Ireland. Collins, London.

Operation Seafarer was a census conducted in 1969 - 1970 by the then recently formed Seabird Group. Over 1000 surveyors took part, co-ordinated by David Saunders, guided by a Census Committee chaired by James Fisher, who sadly died in 1969 before the project was completed.  Coverage was confined to coastal colonies but was thought to be complete apart from gaps in Foula, Shetland and in Caithness.

Operation Seafarer provided the first comprehensive, detailed account of the abundance and distribution of seabirds breeding around the coasts of Britain and Ireland. However, the work also highlighted major problems in accurately counting some species, particularly storm-petrels, Manx shearwaters, razorbills, common guillemots, black guillemots, and Atlantic puffins.

The data from Operation Seafarer was entered on to the SCR database and summarised by Lloyd, C., Tasker, M.L. & Partridge, K. 1991. The status of seabirds in Britian and Ireland. Poyser, London in order to compare directly with the results of the SCR Census and to take account of changing administrative boundaries between the two censuses.


Seabird Colony Register (SCR) Census (1985-1988)

Coverpage of The Status of Seabirds in Britain and IrelandThe results of the SCR were summarised in Lloyd, C., Tasker, M.L. & Partridge K. 1991. The status of seabirds in Britain and Ireland. Poyser, London.

SCR Census Data is available for download.

The Seabird Colony Register (SCR) Census of breeding seabirds in Britain and Ireland was instigated by NCC (now JNCC) and the Seabird Group and was conducted between 1985 and 1988, although some data were collected in previous or subsequent years as part of specialist surveys (e.g. of black guillemots, terns and skuas). During the SCR Census around 3,300 coastal sites and 700 inland sites in Britain and Ireland were recorded on the SCR Database. The results of the SCR were summarised in Lloyd, C., Tasker, M.L. & Partridge K. 1991. The status of seabirds in Britian and Ireland. Poyser, London.

The SCR census provided the second assessment of nationwide trends in seabird numbers. By deploying then recently developed survey techniques it provided more reliable baseline population estimates for common guillemots, razorbills and black guillemots, against which future surveys could be compared. It allowed the national importance of individual colonies to be assessed in both Britain and Ireland, thereby enabling classification of Special Protection Areas. As in Operation Seafarer, the SCR Census did not attempt to survey storm-petrels and Manx Shearwaters.

Seabird 2000 (1998-2002)

Coverpage of Seabird Populations of Britain and IrelandThe results of Seabird 2000 were summarised in Seabird Populations of Britain and Ireland, by P. Ian Mitchell, Stephen Newton, Norman Ratcliffe & Tim E. Dunn (eds.), published in 2004 by T & AD Poyser, an imprint of A&C Black, ISBN 0-7136-6901-2.

An executive summary of Seabird 2000's results as well as copies of the distribution maps and tables of regional population estimates derived from Seabird 2000 results, are available to download or view.

Download Seabird 2000 Census Data.


Important: By accessing the above datasets you agree to be bound by the Terms and Conditions of the Seabird Monitoring Programme Data Access/Use Policy and by JNCC's Privacy Policy



Data that partners to the SMP consider to be sensitive have been removed from the above datasets. These relate to Leach's storm-petrel, roseate tern, little tern, Mediterranean gull and, for Ireland, great skua. Data requests for these species will be considered by SMP on a case by case basis, taking into consideration species protection needs.



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