Greg Morgan is Warden on Ramsey Island, his role also has responsibility for Grassholm Island, 8 miles off the Pembrokeshire coast.
In my last blog I wrote about the large number of dead seabirds (mainly razorbills, guillemots and puffins) which have been washing up across the Welsh beaches this winter and the impact this may have on our populations on Ramsey. With relatively few casualties reported, gannets, one of Pembrokeshire’s star species, would appear not to have been as badly affected by the winter storms.
Image taken by Lisa Morgan
From March to October Grassholm is home to over 39,000 pairs of gannets, making it the third largest colony in the UK. It is also important on a global scale as just under 10% of the worlds population of gannets breed here. We believe gannets will have been less badly affected by this winter’s stormy weather across Europe as many spend their winters off the coast of North Africa and Iberia. We know this thanks to the research of Dr Stephen Votier and his team from University of Exeter who have tracked the feeding and migration pathways for these birds over the last 8 years.
Image by Stuart Murray
Grassholm is important at a European level for gannets and the island is designated as a Special Protection Area (SPA) which protects gannets whilst they are on the island. However, protecting seabirds at their breeding sites is only half the battle. We also need to ensure they have adequate protection at sea where they feed and rest.
In 2008, the European Union introduced a requirement for its Member States to expand SPA’s 2km out to sea. After years of campaigning for Governments across the UK to introduce these important seaward extensions we were pleased when in February of this year the Welsh Government tasked Natural Resources Wales (NRW) to implement the extensions.
The extensions, which will hopefully come into being later this year, will not affect normal ‘day to day’ activities around the island, i.e. responsible eco-tourism wildlife watching trips or small scale fishing efforts. However, importantly they will impose restrictions on unsustainable potentially damaging activities within this area in the future, for example mineral exploration. To find out more about the extensions across Wales see here.
Although we believe these extensions are important steps in the right direction towards providing seabirds with protection we know that it won’t protect birds once they are outside of the 2km area (some species need protection in bigger areas). The GPS tracking data gathered by Dr Steve Votier over the years has shown that gannets forage a lot further than 2km from the island, anything from 80km-100km is quite normal (see map below) – clearly to achieve protection for foraging seabirds we need to think on a much bigger scale.
Map courtesy of Dr Steve Votier
RSPB Cymru therefore continues to press the Welsh Government to ensure full species protection for seabirds. This includes calling on the Government to deliver against its other legislative requirements which will give species such as gannets protection whilst they are at sea.
Ramsey Island will be open to the public for day visits from 1st April to 31st October. A visit at any time of year is special but the best time for seabirds is late May through to early July. For boat booking details contact Thousand Islands Expeditions on 01437 721721 You can follow us on Twitter @RSPBRamsey
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