Our seabirds are struggling and need help. If you live in England, can you support our special seabirds campaign by contacting your MP and telling them how important Marine Conservation Zones are for our wonderful wildlife

The coastline is a constant draw for holidaymakers and day-trippers, especially during the summer months. Sandcastles and forts are built on beaches, whilst intrepid explorers clamber over rocks, peering inquisitively into pools searching for crabs and small fishes. Loud squeals erupt from small children when toes dip cautiously into the cold ocean, before plunging bravely forward.

The seashore has always been important for people. An exciting habitat to explore and relax in. To spend time with the family, with picnics and playtime. But it’s not just humans which benefit, almost half of all UK wildlife can be found here and the seas surrounding our islands are vital for our seabirds.

The rich waters provide feeding grounds for millions of seabirds with hungry chicks, including globally important populations of some species. Almost two thirds of the world's gannets nest along our coasts, while 80% of the world's Manx shearwaters, and over half the world's great skuas breed on islands offshore. Every year, over seven million seabirds breed around the coast, while millions more waders, divers and seaducks migrate to spend the winter in and around our shores.

But, they're in trouble. Since 2000 most species in the UK and Ireland have declined: kittiwake populations have dropped by 47% since 2000, while numbers of common terns have fallen by 20% and Arctic skuas by an alarming 71%.

An arctic skua chick, arctic skuas  numbers have plummeted by 71% and are in desperate need of better protection Photo credit Andy Hay (RSPB Images)

The marine environment needs better protection, and the UK Government committed to creating a well connected and managed network of protected areas around England’s seas and coasts by 2016. A network of Marine Conservation Zones. 

However, initial delight has quickly turned to frustration as so far only fifty sites have been put forward for protection. Even more disappointing is that none of these sites will provide any direct protection for our important populations of seabirds.

On land, English nesting seabirds are protected from human activities such as development and disturbance. However, when they leave their colonies and travel out to sea, most of the vital areas they use for resting and feeding are not currently safeguarded the same way. This is why Marine Conservation Zones are needed; to provide a safe haven in the most important places for some of our rarest seabirds to thrive.

The Marine Conservation Zones

We have one last opportunity to fix this. Government has asked for suggestions for sites that they can consider designating Marine Conservation Zones. We’ve given them six.

Carrick Roads is the only new site, one that must be created, to protect the already rare black-necked grebe which is so vulnerable to human disturbance.

The other five are already protected because of their importance for other species.  For these we’re either asking for them to be extended to include important areas for seabirds, or for seabirds to be added to the list of species they’re designated for so that they are properly managed for their benefit.

We’re asking for an extension to a site off the Cumbrian Coast to protect the many thousands of black guillemot, common guillemot, fulmar, common kittiwake, razorbill and puffin whilst they’re at sea. And to a site off the coast of Lundy Island to protect the growing populations of Manx shearwater, puffin, common guillemot and razorbill.

Lundy Island, where 15,000 seabirds live, is the second largest breeding colony in the South West and one site where protection is needed. Photo credit Robin Hickmott

We’re asking for common guillemot and razorbill to be added to Bideford to Foreland Point, and eider duck to Coquet to St Mary’s. Whereas Torbay needs to be extended 1km, and for common guillemot and black-necked grebes to be listed.

How you can help

Thérèse Coffey, the Environment Minister will have the final say on which sites she wants to put forward for public consultation, and will make that decision in the next a few months. She could agree to all of them...or none of them.

This is why we need you to take action. We need Thérèse Coffey to know how important these sites are for seabirds and why we should protect them.

Please help by contacting your MP and asking them to write to Thérèse Coffey, Minister for Environment in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about why the UK Government urgently needs to include these sites in the public consultation.

You can find your MP and the various ways to contact them via the Write to Them website. Also, all MPs can be reached by writing to them at House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA.

Please send copies of your letters or e-mails, and any replies, to Vanessa Amaral-Rogers, Campaigning Communications Officer, RSPB, The Lodge, Sandy, Bedfordshire SG19 2BR. Alternatively you can email us at campaigns@rspb.org.uk.

Seabirds really need your help; and we can do it with the help of the UK government. Action is needed now if we want to start protecting our iconic seabirds.