(C) Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

Today’s blog is written by Jacques Villemot, Marine Policy Officer, on the need for UK governments to commit to and deliver ambitious actions to save our globally important seabird populations. 


There is an urgent need to reverse seabird declines in the UK, yet Governments are seeking to give themselves a loophole that could mean taking urgent action to save seabirds ceases to be a priority.


The UK Marine Strategy is the framework for delivering marine policy in our seas, aiming to set the ambition for our marine environment and its species so they may reach good environmental status. First published in 2012, the Strategy had originally set out a legal duty for governments to reach this target by 2020. However, UK governments having failed to meet this criterion for 11 of the 15 indicators measuring success, including seabirds, a new deadline of 2024 was put forward, with a new draft programme of measures proposed earlier this year.


Our seabirds in danger

There is an urgent need for some ambitious commitment and actions for our seabirds. Indeed, their population numbers have kept declining, suffering almost 25% decline in less than four decades. As a result, 24 of the 25 UK breeding seabird species are now listed on the UK list of Birds of Conservation Concern. In view of these alarming numbers, the RSPB was gravely concerned to observe that in the draft programme of measure proposed earlier this year, governments were asking for an exception to deliver their commitment by 2024 for the seabirds’ indicator, amongst other.


Why does it mean?

As aforementioned, the Marine Strategy sets the ambition and the commitments for UK governments to restore our marine environment. The programme of measure, which is expecting to be published in its final form this summer, is supposed to set out how they are planning to meet their commitment of reaching good environmental status of our seas by 2024. If they apply for an exception for a number of indicators including seabirds, as they have shown an incline towards, this will intentionally undermine this aspiration. It would open up a loophole to avoid meeting their legal duty, weakening in the process the whole framework whilst leaving the future of our seabirds even further in jeopardy.


Why is it problematic?

UK governments are calling for an exception for marine birds on the grounds of:

  • “action or inaction for which the United Kingdom is not responsible”, and
  • “natural conditions which do not allow timely improvement in the status of the marine waters concerned”

In light of this, the RSPB would have expected to see a significant increase in ambition for marine bird conservation measures domestically from Governments, including many more deliverable actions on the ground. Yet, this is not the case, and the lack of ambition is evident throughout the draft programme of measure. There are a number of actions for which the United Kingdom could and should be responsible for, which would contribute greatly to protecting and restoring our globally important seabirds.


What is the RSPB calling for instead?              

Some of these very concrete measures include:

  • The closure of commercial sandeel fishery around the UK
  • The effective monitoring of fishing activity at sea so bycatch mitigation measures can be effectively rolled out
  • The designation of protected areas (a) for foraging sites at seas so seabird colonies are not safe places to starve and (b) to increase our network of marine protected areas’ resilience to climate change
  • The resourcing of a UK wide seabird island biosecurity program to protect those crucial breeding spaces from invasive non-native species
  • The roll out of an effective marine spatial planning system at sea to deliver our energy needs without jeopardising nature.

The omission of these measures from the draft Programme of Measures are not the cause of action or inaction for which our governments are not responsible but depend only on their willingness to deliver concrete actions.

With Seabird Conservation Strategies expected to be delivered in the 4 UK countries in the coming months, it is critical that ambitious and tangible actions are being taken rapidly to reflect the governments announced commitments. These strategies will need to rely on robust frameworks if they are to be prioritised and resourced to the extent our seabirds so desperately need.


The UK is of great importance to seabirds globally, and in return, they are such an important part of the UK’s national identity. Yet, their numbers have been consistently declining over the past decades. With the consequences of climate change risking to aggravate this phenomenon even further, the message sent by UK Governments in seeking an exception from delivering on their commitment in a timely manner is of grave concern to the RSPB. This is even further emphasized by the lack of concrete measures proposed alongside this exception request.

As such, we are urging governments to reconsider their decision to give themselves a loophole that could mean taking urgent action to save seabirds ceases to be a priority. We are instead calling for concrete measures to be delivered, including the ones highlighted above, and for robust and appropriately resourced seabird conservation strategies to be promptly delivered in each of the four countries. It is not too late to save our amazing seabirds.