Sunday 21 April 2024
 4.9°C   S Moderate Breeze
Ocean Kinetics - The Engineering Experts

Climate / Everyone can help slow the decline of kittiwakes

Kittiwake adult and two chicks. Photo: Dean Bricknell/RSPB

SMALL changes by everyone can help combat a widespread decline in numbers of seabirds like kittiwakes, according to Will Miles, the seabird monitor for environmental group SOTEAG.

Miles, who took over the role from Martin Heubeck last year, said that the kittiwake, described in books as a “gentle looking” gull, has plummeted in numbers over the past 10 to 15 years.

Shetland colonies that once numbered into the thousands are in same cases down to less than 100.

New colonies have also sprung up, but in nowhere near the same numbers. Birds are also nesting in more inaccessible, sheltered and often overhanging, cliff faces.

“There are still quite a few birds but in smaller colonies and we tend to find them in areas where they are particularly sheltered,” said Miles.

“It is really hard to know [why they are doing this], it could be predation, but there may be other advantages to that habitat.”

He said that while the far-ranging kittiwakes’ decline seemed to reflect environmental change over a wide area, such as a reduction of feed fish, folk can help by cutting their personal greenhouse gas emissions.

Miles said: “People can reduce their carbon footprint and that’s something we think will help those birds quite a lot. In small scale, little ways it can all add up.”

Bird experts are eagerly awaiting the result of a nationwide Seabird Count, the last of which was undertaken in 2000. Precise figures should follow the compilation of collected data, a “mammoth” task that should be concluded next year.

Miles said: “This covers the whole UK, it is a huge project. Shetland is a really big part of it because Shetland is such an important site for sea birds.”

According to Miles, there is no question that the figures so far suggest a major decline in kittiwakes.

Become a supporter of Shetland News


The birds, which were once very common around the banks of Shetland, rely heavily on small fatty feed fish of the herring variety. Sadly, the abundance of sprats and the like does not exactly coincide with the kittiwake’s breeding season.

Nesting patterns may reflect predatory pressure. Gulls, skuas and mammals are all known to prey on the kittiwake and its young.

Become a supporter of Shetland News

Shetland News is asking its many readers to consider start paying for their dose of the latest local news delivered straight to their PC, tablet or mobile phone.

Journalism comes at a price and because that price is not being paid in today’s rapidly changing media world, most publishers - national and local - struggle financially despite very healthy audience figures.

Most online publishers have started charging for access to their websites, others have chosen a different route. Shetland News currently has  over 600 supporters  who are all making small voluntary financial contributions. All funds go towards covering our cost and improving the service further.

Your contribution will ensure Shetland News can: -

  • Bring you the headlines as they happen;
  • Stay editorially independent;
  • Give a voice to the community;
  • Grow site traffic further;
  • Research and publish more in-depth news, including more Shetland Lives features.

If you appreciate what we do and feel strongly about impartial local journalism, then please become a supporter of Shetland News by either making a single payment or monthly subscription.

Support us from as little as £3 per month – it only takes a minute to sign up. Thank you.



Subscribe to a selection of different newsletters from Shetland News, varying from breaking news delivered on the minute, to a weekly round-up of the opinion posts. All delivered straight to your inbox.

Daily Briefing Newsletter Weekly Highlights Newsletter Opinion Newsletter Life in Shetland Newsletter

JavaScript Required

We're sorry, but Shetland News isn't fully functional without JavaScript enabled.
Head over to the help page for instructions on how to enable JavaScript on your browser.

Your Privacy

We use cookies on our site to improve your experience.
By using our service, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy.

Browser is out-of-date

Shetland News isn't fully functional with this version of .
Head over to the help page for instructions on updating your browser for more security, improved speed and the best overall experience on this site.

Interested in Notifications?

Get notifications from Shetland News for important and breaking news.
You can unsubscribe at any time.

Become a supporter of Shetland News

We're committed to ensuring everyone has equitable access to impartial, open and quality local journalism that benefits all residents.

By supporting Shetland News, you play a vital role in ensuring we remain a pivotal resource in supporting the community.

Support us from as little as £3 per month – it only takes a minute to sign up. Thank you.