Puffins, terns, eiders, and long-tailed ducks are some of the wildlife that legal protection gives them a boost.
The long-awaited declaration of Special Protection Areas (SPAs) will protect some of the places that hundreds of thousands of birds in Scotland’s seas rely on for food and shelter.
The announcement comes after an in-depth scientific study and consultation, during which the proposals received broad public support. However, RSPB Scotland has raised concerns about the proposed areas in Orkney, which are missing from the Scottish Government’s statement even though the selection criteria are met.
The Firth of Forth and the seas around the remote islands of St Kilda and Foula are among the special areas of the Scottish coast and seas selected to support an internationally significant number of birds. However, based on scientific evidence, Scapa Flow and the waters north of Orkney Mainland were recommended as hotspots were withheld for wintering ducks, divers and great crested grebes.
Puffin, Copyright Glyn Sellors, from the Surfbirds Galleries
The Scottish Government is required by law to select key locations for birds on land and at sea for special protection. So far, only breeding colonies on land and in coastal waters in their vicinity had received SPA status. Today’s announcement marks the first time in Scotland that areas known to be important to foraging birds have received this type of protection. The new legal status means that any future development and activity that may damage the areas must now be strictly controlled.
Many of the world’s major seabird populations in Scotland are in trouble, facing a cocktail of man-made threats on land and at sea. Some species are already suffering from the effects of climate change. Kittiwakes were particularly hard hit. In Scotland the numbers are said to have fallen by 70% since the late 1980s.
RSPB Scotland is now calling on the government to urgently improve the missing Orkney sites and to commit to resources and implement management plans for the new protected areas. Effective management is critical to building resilience in struggling populations and reversing the worrying trend of widespread breeding failure and decline.
The announcement of the SPAs for the protection of birds is the latest milestone in over a decade of considering how the legal requirements of the EU Wild Birds Directive can be met. It comes along with the declaration of four new marine sanctuaries for basking sharks, minke whales, Risso’s dolphins and the small sand eel, an important food source for many sea birds.
Alex Kinninmonth, Head of Maritime Policy at RSPB Scotland said: “We certainly applaud the protected areas designated today, but any joy is tempered by what is missing in Orkney. We ask the Minister for urgent clarity about her intentions as we cannot understand why, after receiving solid scientific advice from her naturalists who support the sites, she decided to add further delays and uncertainties.
“We are in the midst of a global climate and natural disaster that requires urgent changes in the management of our land and ocean. So we have no illusions that these sites alone will reverse the fate of Scottish seabirds. Only through sustained investments and enforced management plans will they become a cornerstone of efforts to revitalize our coasts and seas. “
“The sight and sound of hundreds of thousands of seabirds flocking to our coast each year is an amazing natural spectacle that must be protected so that future generations can experience it.”