Seabirds Count – the fourth Breeding Seabird Census
At the time of the last seabird census (Seabird 2000, 1998–2002), over 8 million seabirds bred in Britain and Ireland each year. Since then, evidence of widespread declines in productivity (number of chicks fledged per pair) have emerged which may be driving declines in breeding population size. To understand how seabird populations are changing, another complete census – Seabirds Count – is being undertaken to complement the annual Seabird Monitoring Programme (SMP).
Census data are essential for assessing seabird population health and vital for understanding the conservation status of our internationally important seabirds, the effects of climate change on marine environments, and to inform marine planning. The Seabirds Count census is running from 2015 until 2022.
Seabirds Count was developed by the (pre-July 2022) SMP Partnership and led by JNCC. Census work began in 2015 and, to date, has incorporated data collected by volunteers and professional surveyors as part of ongoing SMP annual monitoring and from other survey initiatives such as Common Standards Monitoring of the UK’s network of breeding seabird Special Protection Areas (SPAs). Seabirds Count will complete surveys by the end of the 2022 breeding season, and the results will be published in 2023.
Over the period of the census, over 10,000 breeding colonies will need to be surveyed. In addition to the usual natural sites where you would expect to find breeding seabirds, this census also aims to conduct a survey of urban nesting gulls, adding over 5,000 1 km squares to the total sites being surveyed.
Considering the large volume of sites to visit, it is no surprise that volunteer effort will be essential for the completion of Seabirds Count. There are currently 47 volunteer regional co-ordinators across Scotland and England, organising surveys of colonies and squares within their county.
Due to the restrictions of the pandemic, the Scottish urban gull survey coverage was not optimal by the end of the 2021 season to establish population estimates. Therefore, one final survey season to fill the gap in this aspect of the census will go ahead in 2022. They will be the only surveys that will go ahead as part of the census in 2022. Volunteer participation will be integral to this survey. Available 1 km squares and links to survey sign-up are found on the online map.
The SMP partnership involved in developing Seabirds Count included the following organisations: BirdWatch Ireland; The British Trust for Ornithology; Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Northern Ireland); Department of Environment, Food and Agriculture (Isle of Man); Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications (Republic of Ireland); JNCC; Manx Birdlife; Manx National Heritage; The National Trust; National Trust for Scotland; Natural England; Natural Resources Wales; Scottish Natural Heritage (now NatureScot); The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds; Scottish Wildlife Trust; The Seabird Group; Shetland Oil Terminal Environmental Advisory Group; States of Guernsey Government; UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.