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Seabirds Count

By Daisy Burnell, Allan J. Perkins, Stephen F. Newton, Mark Bolton, T. David Tierney and Timothy E. Dunn 

Lynx Edicions, 2023

Hbk, 528pp; many colour illustrations

ISBN 978-8-4167286-0-2; £44.99

This is the fourth national survey of Britain’s seabirds. The first was Operation Seafarer, conducted between 1969 and 1970; the second, the Seabird Colony Register, between 1985 and 1988; the third, Seabird 2000 between 1998 and 2002; and now this one, Seabirds Count, undertaken between 2015 and 2021.

Seabirds Count documents the size and distribution of all 10,000 seabird breeding sites for some 25 breeding species around the British Isles, representing a mammoth effort by a huge number of individuals coordinated by the Joint Nature Conservancy Council (JNCC), together with numerous partners, including the RSPB, the National Parks and Wildlife Service and BirdWatch Ireland.

The overall results are depressingly familiar, with widespread declines since the previous census. Of the 21 species ‘where we have confidence in their trends’, 11 have declined by over 10%. Five – Mediterranean Gull Ichthyaetus melanocephalus, Roseate Tern Sterna dougallii, Northern Gannet  Morus bassanus and Razorbill Alca torda – have increased by over 10%; but remember that this survey was conducted before seabirds were hit by Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) in late 2021. The numbers of Sandwich Thalasseus sandvicensis and Common Tern S. hirundo, Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo, Common Guillemot Uria aalge and Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle have remained stable since the previous census. For some species, notably the Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus, European Storm-petrel Hydrobates pelagicus, Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus and Herring Gull L. argentatus, their status is difficult to assess because of changes in methodology and coverage since Seabird 2000.

The editors state that ‘The results of Seabirds Count and their interpretation provide the building blocks for at least the next decade of seabird conservation.’ If only that were literally true. Certainly, the results of this most recent survey tell us how badly things are going for many of our seabirds, but the emergence of HPAI during the time this book was in production has reduced the numbers of several seabird species even further. Readers will ask themselves whether, other than this kind of documentation, there is anything we can do to prevent these mainly anthropogenic-induced declines. The various factors affecting seabird numbers are elegantly, if depressingly summarised in an excellent chapter by Mark Bolton and Helen Baker. On a more positive note, the eradication of terrestrial predators has allowed some seabird populations, like those on Lundy Island, in the Bristol Channel, to flourish.

This is a beautifully and robustly made book, as we have come to expect from Lynx Edicions, with attractive easy-to-read distribution maps and numerous photographs or paintings of each species.

Tim R. Birkhead

Issue 5
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