How can you help Arctic skuas?

Continuing from last week’s post describing the challenges faced by Arctic skuas, Dr Allan Perkins (RSPB Centre for Conservation Science) is back with some advice on what you can to to help.

Arctic skuas may well be heading towards extinction as a breeding species within the UK. That is the stark warning from our recent study, which found that Arctic skuas have declined by 81% in Scotland.

Dark-phase Arctic skua - Ian Francis

Adult dark-phase Arctic skua (Photo: Ian Francis)

What can be done?

The main driver of Arctic skua and other seabird declines in northern Scotland is lack of food during the breeding season, and marine policy interventions such as fisheries regulation and designating nature conservation Marine Protected Areas and Special Protection Areas could help reduce bottom-up pressures on our seabirds by protecting sandeel stocks.

Other solutions could include providing supplementary food within Arctic skua territories. This was partially successful when tested as part of a PhD study in the early 2000s, but the logistics of doing this throughout the breeding season probably make it unviable on a large scale.

It is perhaps also worth noting that both Arctic and great skuas have faced extinction in Scotland previously, with human persecution (mainly for taxidermy and egg collecting) during the nineteenth century taking a heavy toll.

Both species recovered, underlining their resilience, but the current pressures exerted largely by climate change may prove a much tougher test.

How you can help

Our study wouldn’t have been possible without the availability of large scale long-term seabird monitoring datasets such as the UK Seabird Monitoring Programme (SMP) database and the periodic national seabird censuses.

These both heavily rely on volunteers. Citizen scientists ensure we can survey more than just nature reserves and large seabird colonies.

Pale-phase Arctic skua - Ian Francis

Adult pale-phase Arctic skua (Photo: Ian Francis)

This gives us a more complete picture of the changes happening throughout the UK. These datasets allowed us to analyse seabird trends across dozens of colonies, making it a much more powerful study than had we focussed on just one or two sites – a classic example of the value of the sum being greater than its parts.

So, if you’re a seabird enthusiast, why not visit the SMP website and get involved in this valuable programme?

In addition, ‘Seabirds Count’ is the latest Britain and Ireland seabird census, currently underway and being led by JNCC on behalf of the SMP partnership.

It will hopefully complete in 2019, but there is still lots of counting to do. Many of the remaining gaps are in Scotland, but help is needed in the other countries to count ‘urban gulls’, whose overall population size is currently unknown. If you would like to help, please email: who will put you in touch with your local coordinator.

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