For decades our seas have been subjected to fishing which does not leave enough food for wildlife. Policy Officer Jacques Villemot explains why now is the time to turn the tide for our seabirds including the much loved puffin.

The UK is home to over 8 million seabirds. These birds return to our shores every summer nesting on cliffs, beaches and islands. They rely on our seas for food to feed their chicks (puffin chicks are called pufflings!).

Puffin with sandeels in its beak. Credit: Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)

Unfortunately, there are problems out at sea making it harder for our seabirds to find enough food. This is causing population declines and leaving chicks hungry.

Globally, seabird populations have declined by 70% since 1950, making them the most threatened group of birds in the world.

The species suffering the most are those dependant on sandeels; puffins and kittiwakes. Sandeels are small shoaling fish, found in the North Sea and full of calories for growing chicks (if you have ever seen a puffin with fish in its beak, these might have been sandeels). The availability of sandeels is reduced by fishing which does not set aside enough food for wildlife. Reductions in sandeels are also linked to climate change making our seas warmer. This means less food for pufflings.

As well as declines in puffins, we’re seeing huge losses in our kittiwakes whose UK population has halved since the 1960s and these birds are regularly not rearing enough chicks to reverse the decline. Both kittiwake and puffin have been declared as at risk of global extinction by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Unfortunately further pressure is being added from poorly planned offshore wind development (Helen Quayle, Policy Officer, explains why we urgently need a new approach with joint solutions for the climate crisis and the ecological emergency in our The RSPB and offshore wind blog).

Unless we change how we manage our seas and plan much needed renewables, we risk losing our seabirds.

The good news is that it is not too late to turn the tide for seabirds - if we act now.

We are calling on the government to close UK waters to commercial sandeel fishing. This would help our puffins and kittiwakes as well as other wildlife relying on sandeels for food. Sandeels are not fished by UK fishing fleets or used for human consumption. And the UK has the power to make this happen.

If you would like to know more, there’s a guest blog by Dr Euan Dunn, ‘Shrinking sandeels? – shrink the fishery!’ and policy briefing ‘Sandeel fisheries in UK waters’. You can also find all the details in our full report, Revive our Seas: The case for stronger regulation of sandeel fisheries in UK waters.

You can also head over to the RSPB eBay shop for a new gorgeous puffling pin badge to show your support. 

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