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Annual audit of seabird population reveals ups and downs for species

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Dr Katherine Booth Jones at Copeland Bird Observatory

Dr Katherine Booth Jones at Copeland Bird Observatory

Two kittiwakes

Two kittiwakes

A guillemot

A guillemot

Dr Katherine Booth Jones at Copeland Bird Observatory

OUR seabird population had mixed fortunes last year, a new report has found.

The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has released the Northern Ireland Seabird Report 2019, which revealed how our 22 breeding seabird species fared last year.

Its report included positive findings for the red-listed kittiwake, which is facing long-term decline in the UK as a whole.

With numbers of breeding adults standing at less than half their 1960s total, this decrease is happening at a much slower rate in Northern Ireland.

In fact, the BTO says some colonies are instead showing a long-term increase. During 2019 the kittiwake population increased across all sites, with colonies on the Gobbins cliff path and nearby Muck Island in Co Antrim faring particularly well.

Their numbers increased by 68% and 65% respectively when compared to 2018.

Razorbills also had a good year, with the birds being recorded in their highest numbers since records began at Muck Island, while guillemots had their best year since 2016.

But it wasn't good news for all the province's seabirds.

The report shows that fulmar numbers are continuing to decline, as well as the black guillemot on Rathlin Island, our best known seabird haven.

The island, which is an RSPB reserve, is open to the public, and boasts the only local pair of breeding chough, and more recently, corncrake.

May is the best time to see swathes of guillemots, kittiwakes, puffins, fulmars, shags, and gannets and chicks nesting on bare ledges in full view. This is the seventh edition of the report, the outcome of the work of the Northern Ireland Seabird Network of volunteers, overseen by the BTO on behalf of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA).

Report author Dr Katherine Booth Jones says the annual recording of seabird numbers by volunteers is vital for capturing the long-term changes in the breeding seabird population, and alerting policy makers to the need for vital conservation action.

Dr Booth Jones said: "The Northern Ireland Seabird Network is a special collaboration between volunteer seabird surveyors, the BTO, NIEA, RSPB and the National Trust, without whom we could not follow the fates of our seabirds in these changing times.

"While we have seen winners and losers in 2019, seabird counts at colonies can vary year-to-year depending on weather conditions and timings, which makes the annual recording of seabird numbers by our volunteers particularly valuable to capture long-term changes in Northern Ireland."

Belfast Telegraph