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Increase in some sea bird populations across Wales

Guillemots

Initial national seabird census results from Natural Resources Wales (NRW) indicate a healthy increase in guillemots and razorbills around the Welsh coastline.

This included increases at large colonies, such as New Quay Head. Here almost 5,400 guillemots and 230 razorbills were counted compared to 3,835 guillemots and 126 razorbills in 2000. 

The work by NRW specialists and volunteers, which is part of the UK-wide seabird census “Seabirds Count”, was completed this summer, with the final stretch covering the area from St David’s Head in Pembrokeshire to Tywyn in Gwynedd, approximately 150km, over 5 days. 

In most count sectors with rocky cliffs, seabird species could be found nesting, with herring gull and fulmar commonplace and colonies of guillemot and razorbill tucked in to protected gullies, out of the prevailing south-westerly winds.  

There is less positive news for kittiwakes whose numbers are declining, which follows the UK-wide trend. At New Quay Head, the number of birds has declined from 375 to 335.  

Kittiwakes are more susceptible to food shortages as they can only feed on prey near the sea surface, compared to diving species such as razorbills which can access prey at a range of depths. In the North Sea, increased sea surface temperature has been linked to climate change and a negative effect on the availability of the main prey of kittiwakes, the sand eel. 

Matty Murphy, NRW Senior Marine Ornithologist, said: 

“Seabirds are an incredibly important part of our environment in Wales and give us really good information about the health of our seas.” 

“It’s great that we have finished the coastal part of Seabirds Count. This data about the health of the seabird population helps us to understand the effects of climate change and other pressures on the marine environment.” 

“This evidence is something we use to inform things like our planning advice and licensing, but also what we can do to improve our seas to make the best possible habitat for these fantastic birds.”

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