The opening of the shiny new Seabird Centre at RSPB Bempton Cliffs this spring provided the opportunity for the reserve not only to continue hosting the greatest seabird show on the mainland, but also to vastly improve its facilities and capabilities away from the cliff edge. An important part of the new centre is the extra space and the possibilities it offers – not least when it comes to holding talks and events – and the team wasted no time in putting together an unrivalled programme in partnership with Yorkshire Wildlife Trust's Living Seas Centre at South Landing, Flamborough.
Time flies, and we're already well in to this year's monthly programme, proving popular at both venues. Last night it was Bempton's turn to host one of most anticipated talks of the year. Keith, Jo and the team secured quite the coup by persuading Dr Euan Dunn – RSPB's Head of Marine Policy and all-round guru of all things seabird – to travel over for a one-off talk, prepared especially for our local audience.
Euan has been at the vanguard of marine policy and seabird studies at the RSPB for over 30 years; that's a hell of a lot experience, and it shows. With an understated, conversational manner that gave the talk a refreshingly informal and engaging air, Euan walked and talked us through the mixed fortunes of our seabirds, past present and future - particularly in relation to the threats they face, and what can (and should) be done to help them.
This was no sugar-coated, airbrushed version of events, and was all the better for it. While it's true to say there are many related issues which are of increasingly grave concern, it's always better to be armed with the knowledge and the facts, and that's where Euan and his team have been consistently excelling for many years. Did you know, for example, that the North Sea temperature is rising four times faster than the global average, and that the resulting fundamental shift in the plankton community is one of the main factors affecting our seabirds? Or that sandeels account for 70-90% of our seabird's staple diet, and that the sandeels they're feeding on have seen a 40% decline in energy value in the last 40 years?
For all the inconvenient truths, there were various positives that were deservedly accentuated by Euan, providing timely reminders of what the RSPB has achieved - and is achieving - for the good of our seabirds. Against a backdrop of climate change and its effects on pretty much every aspect of seabird ecology, there are areas within which we can change - and are changing - for the better. Euan gave us an inspiring range of examples, from the satellite-tagging projects that inform policy and protect essential foraging areas, to the successful campaigns that have made the fishing industry more responsible, to the rat eradication on Lundy which has seen its Puffin and Manx Shearwater colonies blossom, and even encouraged the first ever breeding European Storm-petrels to the island.
So, the science was sound and the message was clear: all is by no means lost, but without the many facets that make up the RSPB – from its front-line scientists and researchers, to its dedicated reserve staff, to its campaigners and lobbyists, to its members who make it all possible – much more certainly would be.
Mark James Pearson