Home » latest » Bird flu sends Scotland’s seabirds into ‘catastrophic’ decline with one species culled by 76%
bird flu sends scotlands seabirds into catastrophic decline with one species culled by 76

Bird flu sends Scotland’s seabirds into ‘catastrophic’ decline with one species culled by 76%

Bird flu has sent Scotland’s seabirds into a “catastrophic” decline with numbers plummeting even amongst once thriving species, a first-of-its-kind study has found. The research by RSPB found two species – northern gannets and great skuas – have suffered full reverses amid the devastating toll of the avian influenza epidemic. Prior to horrifying recent outbreaks of the disease, both species had seen increasing populations in the UK. But tragically, great skuas have since come close to wipeout, with a staggering 76 per cent of the birds lost to the virus – while for gannets there has been a 22 per cent decline. The new survey by RSPB has looked at the impact of avian flu on 14 species – the first attempt by experts to quantify its toll on seabirds in the UK. We told previously how avian influenza has ripped through Scots populations since 2021, wiping out tens of thousands of birds – and an estimated 97million worldwide. And there was another deadly resurgence last summer, with scores of dead seabirds washing up along the Scottish east coast. Last year’s seabird census – for which surveys were taken before bird flu hit – showed 70 per cent of Scotland’s seabirds were in decline, but found three species were increasing. However, two of these species were gannets and great skuas – now in decline – while a third species, the Sandwich Tern, was previously stable but is now also falling in numbers. Following the landmark report, experts warned the species – and seabirds more widely – were in “huge trouble” with drastic measures needed to save them from extinction. RSPB Scotland’s Head of Habitats and Species, Paul Walton, said, “Scotland is globally important for seabirds, and it is clear that people across Scotland care about their fate. “The sight of so many dead seabirds on our cliffs and beaches over the last few years has been heartbreaking and left many fearful for their future. “Those fears are well-founded. The declines in Scotland’s seabirds revealed by the Seabird Count census last year are nothing short of catastrophic. “And now we know the true situation is even bleaker as we see the additional population declines that have been wrought by the new threat from bird flu originating in East Asian poultry.” Scotland’s populations of great skuas and gannets are internationally important – boasting 60 per cent of the world’s breeding pairs of great skuas and 45 per cent for gannets. Even before bird flu, the country’s seabirds have struggled under pressures including climate change, unsustainable fishing practices and offshore developments. A UK-wide agreement in January to ban industrial sandeel fishing – a vital food source for seabirds – has been hailed as a “pivotal” moment for marine conservation. But experts demanded urgent further action – including measures to clamp down on seabirds getting accidentally caught in fishing gear, stronger marine protections and improved disease monitoring. Walton continued: “This needs to be the wake-up call that finally makes a difference. “These declines are telling us that our marine environment is in huge trouble and effective action is needed right now. “The recent announcement of the closure of Scottish waters to industrial sandeel fishing is a significant step in the right direction and one we are delighted to finally see happen. “But it is just one of many things needed to save Scotland’s seabirds.” Don’t miss the latest news from around Scotland and beyond – Sign up to our daily newsletter here .

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