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Sandeel summit is first for Scotland

 

RSPB lead groundbreaking talks at Scottish Seabird Centre to discuss how to recover vital ocean species

Thirty of the world’s leading scientists attended a conference organised by RSPB, and hosted by the Scottish Seabird Centre, this week to discuss what key actions need to be taken to restore critical sandeel populations in the North Sea.

Sandeels are a vital part of our marine foodwebs; they feed on plankton and are prey for a huge number of iconic marine predators including seabirds, seals, porpoises and minke whales.

Many of the internationally important populations of species in the North Sea depend on healthy populations of sandeels to survive. The Wee Bankie, an underwater sandbank off the coast of North Berwick, is particularly important as it provides a spawning ground that feeds into much of the rest of the North Sea.

But evidence suggests that sandeel populations have massively declined, resulting in starving seabirds and threats to the entire North Sea ecosystem. Numbers of kittiwake and Arctic terns breeding on Scotland’s east coast, where the two seabird species rely on sandeels for food, have declined by as much as 69% and 44% respectively since the 1980s.

The Scottish Government has designated three Marine Protected Areas for sandeels, but because of poor understanding of recovery actions, it is not intending to undertake any conservation work in these areas. RSPB, in collaboration with the Scottish Seabird Centre, has stepped up to the plate and is working to understand how to recover this vitally important Scottish asset.

Phil Taylor, RSPB Scotland’s Seabird Officer, said: “This workshop is the first of its kind. Sandeels have suffered from overfishing but now the story is more complex. We have brought the right people to the right place to discuss the right thing to do to help the sandeel. We are hugely grateful to these world renowned experts for coming together in North Berwick, and are excited about progressing the work the group has inspired this week.”

Tom Brock OBE, Chief Executive of the Scottish Seabird Centre, said: “The Seabird Centre was delighted to work in partnership with the RSPB and host this very important workshop. It is crucial that we understand what is causing the major population declines in some seabirds and that we take appropriate conservation action where required.

“A wide range of seabirds feed on shoals of sandeels around the coast, especially in the summer months. The Firth of Forth is of international importance with around 500,000 seabirds at the peak of the breeding season. Following all the discussions from the last few days, as an education and conservation charity we look forward to working with the RSPB, and the other organisations involved in the workshop, on plans that will make a difference.”

RSPB is not happy letting the very foundations of our marine food webs decline without action. This conference is just part of the work they are doing to protect and recover the health of our seas.

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