RSPB Scotland Marine Policy Officer Peadar O'Connell brings us this new blog on the successes we've seen in marine conservation in Scotland and why we need to keep pushing for more action to protect seabirds.

As the sun rises on a dark stormy morning, the sea raging below, a puffin sits on the edge of the world. Taking to the skies she sets out on a familiar journey. The little clown braves the wind and rain and thunderous sea; there is only one mission - to find food for her young. Within a burrow is a two week old chick, a puffling. It’s hungry. Helpless and starved, it calls desperately to its parents, who it is entirely dependent upon. But this morning there is no food, no respite from the hunger. 

The puffin was added to the UK's red list of birds of conservation concern in 2015. It is one of a large number of our seabirds that are in trouble. A similar story is playing out with frightening regularity all around the UK's coastline each year. There have been significant declines in the breeding populations of at least twelve seabird species since the mid-80’s.

Seabirds are remarkably tough birds, they face enormous hardships in their day to day lives that under normal conditions they are well adapted to handle. But who can claim we are now living under normal conditions? 

There are many issues that effect seabirds, some of which can be complex and have multiple impacts, such as climate change, human disturbance and structural developments. The impacts of others might be easier to predict, such as invasive species predating on eggs, chicks or adults and lack of prey leading to starvation, but they still need a concerted effort to address. Collectively the overall impact is leading to declines.

We cannot become despondent though, because despondency leads to inaction and worse, indifference. Scotland is still home to millions of seabirds and is one of the best places in the world to see them. An opportunity to experience a seabird colony should not be missed; the sights, sounds and even smells are mesmeric.

There have been some really positive milestones reached in the last couple of years including a better understanding of where our seabirds go to feed and the identification of fifteen Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for seabirds, seaducks, grebes and divers. These are so important because they include protection for some of the best marine feeding areas in Scotland for birds. Protecting seabirds at their colonies alone, as the story above illustrates, isn’t enough. 

We believe seabirds have a bright future in Scotland and from the responses we received during our recent campaign to show support for newly proposed SPAs, it is clear that many of you do too. So thank you to everyone who joined our campaign or supported the proposed SPAs on the Scottish Natural Heritage website, the consultation is now closed.

Our work isn’t done yet though, we now need to make sure all fifteen sites are formally designated and that these sites are also managed appropriately for the species they are meant to protect. For without appropriate management, these sites will be nothing but a few lines on a map, over areas with fewer and fewer seabirds. 

We hope we can continue to rely on your support. Why not send a letter or email to your local MSP expressing your support for seabird conservation and protected areas for seabirds? Although you might not believe this can make a difference, it most definitely can. 

If you would like to know more, there are loads of great resources on the internet about the threats to seabirds. Finally, if you are not one already, please consider becoming a member of the RSPB so we can work together to provide the puffin and other seabirds a healthy future and to provide plenty of opportunities for us to continue to enjoy these incredible birds. If you are already a member, thank you. We would not be able to do the work we are doing without you. Together we can change the narrative for our seabirds.


  • You absolutely have my support in helping our seabirds.  The one thing I wish you would do, though, is to highlight the plight of the red-listed herring gull a bit more.  It's been red-listed for a few years now and it's the only one of our red-listed birds to have high profile media campaigns running against it.