Dozens of marine zones vital to the survival of seabird species have been identified by conservationists.
More than 70 areas where nationally important populations of seabirds can be found were pinpointed in a report by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).
Specially protected areas are needed in almost a third of national waters but in Britain less than one in every 100,000 square miles has protection, the report said.
Among the seabirds most in need of protection are roseate terns and kittiwakes, which are in sharp decline, the Arctic skua, which is threatened by climate change, and black guillemots, which have just one breeding site left in England.
Labour made a Marine Bill a manifesto pledge but the draft legislation has been held up amid wranglings between Whitehall and the Scottish Executive over who is responsible for coastal waters and when developments, such as wind farms and oil extraction, should be restricted.
In its report, Safeguarding Our Seabirds: Marine Protected Areas for the UK’s Seabirds, RSPB researchers identified 71 sites they consider to be most obviously in need of legal protection.
While the bird populations highlighted in the report had a land base, usually for breeding, the creatures were dependent on the sea.
Of those considered to be among the most important locations were Papa Stour, in the Shetland Islands, a haven for Arctic skua, and Carlingford Lough, in Co Down, where roseate tern can be found.
St Bees Head, Cumbria, holds the last breeding site in England of the black guillemot while St Margaret’s Island, off the Welsh coast, has important populations of guillemots, razorbills, puffins and kittiwakes.
Kate Tanner, the report’s main author, said that many birds die in fishing nets in coastal waters while significant numbers are killed when they get caught accidentally by longline fishing in deep waters.
“The current extent of UK waters fully protected from all damaging activities is like a teabag floating on the surface of an Olympic-sized swimming pool – our marine wildlife deserves far, far better than this,” she said.
“From basking sharks to barnacles, cod to cold-water corals, the UK’s seas contain an immense variety of threatened and beautiful wildlife. Our seas also support huge populations of seabirds, with some species occurring around the UK in larger numbers than anywhere else in the world.
“We have plundered the riches of the UK’s seas for centuries at great cost to wildlife. The sea has shaped our islands’ history, geography and culture, and now as time runs out for marine wildlife it is crucial that we act decisively to protect the environment that defines us.”
Graham Wynne, the RSPB’s chief executive, challenged the Government to commit resources to identifying a network of important marine sites.
Lewis Smith, Environment Reporter
18 March 2008
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