This week we are continuing our celebration of 40 years of the EU Birds directive. Peadar O'Connell, Marine Policy Officer, discusses why we owe so much to the directive and what the story is for seabirds.

A momentous milestone: But what does it mean for our seafaring wanderers?

HAPPY BIRTHDAY! LET’S HEAR IT FOR DIRECTIVE 2009/147/EC, 40 years old this year!

What on earth is that? (or words to that effect) I hear you say. OK, so I admit it’s hard to get very excited about a piece of legislation, regardless of the milestone it might have reached. They are not typically page turners... However, there is a piece of legislation that has made a huge difference in protecting birds in the UK and Europe, that is, appropriately enough, the EU Birds Directive. Together with the EU Habitats Directive these two pieces of European legislation make up an environmental super team called the the EU Nature Directives, and despite the challenges our nature faces today it could be a whole lot worse without these (see here for how the these Directives have made a difference and what you can do to Fight for Scotland’s Nature). The Birds Directive came first and laid much of the groundwork for our environmental protection.

Kittiwake Credit: Peadar O'Connell

Why do we owe so much to the Birds Directive? Well, because it required member states to enshrine the protection of birds into national law. This was a game changer. One of the tools that could now be used to protect birds was to classify Special Protection Areas (SPAs). These protected areas are specifically for birds and the things, basically habitat and food, that they need to survive. SPAs on land have been designated across the country for a host of birds and the management and monitoring of these is reasonably well established (although under resourced). At sea however, it is a very different story.

Seabirds are amongst the fastest declining group of birds in the whole world. Scotland is a seabird hotspot, one of the very best in Europe, but they are also undergoing massive declines here.


Although there has been some progress on protecting seabirds at their colonies, where they nest, what about at sea where they spend most of their time? Now this is were we need to see more effort. Over the last decade Scottish Government have been working with their advisors to identify and classify the most important areas at sea for seabirds. RSPB Scotland has been an active and vocal stakeholder in this process. As I’m sure you can imagine it is challenging to identify the most important areas at sea for seabirds, but there is a significant amount of data gathered over decades to inform the process. In 2016 a public consultation was held on 15 potential SPAs at sea, since then there has been very slow progress towards officially classifying these sites and crucially, getting on with the job of ensuring they are well managed.

Razorbill Credit: Peadar O'Connell

To some extent this is understandable, these are nothing if not turbulent times politically. However, we can’t afford to continue losing our wild species and places, we are already at crisis point and taking our eye off the ball is unacceptable. So, lets hope that Scottish Government (who have committed to upholding EU environmental standards whatever happens with Brexit) will shortly classify these sites as fully fledged (sorry!) SPAs and put in place appropriate management. There could be no better way of celebrating the Birds Directives 40th birthday than officially classifying these marine SPAs for our amazing, spectacular, stunning and sadly threatened seabirds.

So lets raise a glass, or a wing, to the Bird’s Directive!

You can help too by supporting the Fight for Scotland’s Nature campaign which is calling for an ambitious Scottish Environment Act to ensure our wildlife is well protected, at what can only be described as a critical period for nature. Please take a look, thank you!