18 certificate for seabird conservation

A partner of the Seabird Monitoring Programme submits records to the online database. © Hugh Thurgate/ National Trust


18 signatories representing 19 organisations with an interest in nature conservation have agreed on a new direction for joint working on seabird conservation. At Edinburgh Zoo on 3 November the Seabird Monitoring Programme partnership agreed a Statement of Intent that will pave the way for future data sharing and collaboration.


The agreement comes on the 20th anniversary of the start of coordinated seabird monitoring in the UK  and Ireland, under the Seabird Monitoring Programme (SMP).  Evidence derived from the SMP has been central to conservation actions, such as helping to implement the EU Birds Directive. It has also enabled the provision of advice on the wider ecological effects of various human activities including commercial fishing and the effects of climate change. 



Who is involved? The 19 organisations from throughout Britain and Ireland (including Isle Of Man and the Channel Islands) who are party to the agreement are: BirdWatch Ireland; British Trust for Ornithology; Centre for Ecology & Hydrology; Countryside Council for Wales; Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (Isle of Man); Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Republic of Ireland); States of Guernsey Government; Joint Nature Conservation Committee; Manx Birdlife; Manx National Heritage, The National Trust; National Trust for Scotland; Natural England; Northern Ireland Environment Agency; Royal Society for the Protection of Birds; Scottish Natural Heritage; Seabird Group; Shetland Oil Terminal Environmental Advisory Group; and the Scottish Wildlife Trust.


The key commitments


  • Adding Value – the Partners wish to work together in order to add value to their individual contributions and to fulfil the aims of the Seabird Monitoring Programme, namely:

‘Contribute information to enable the appropriate agencies to maintain favourable status of seabird populations in Britain and Ireland, ensure that sufficient data on breeding numbers and appropriate demographic and behavioural parameters of seabirds are collected- both regionally and nationally - to enable their population and conservation status to be assessed, and to monitor the impacts of ecosystem pressures.’


  • Sharing data and information – the Partnership collects a vast amount of information on seabird abundance and demographic parameters, but the challenge is to effectively collate, store and share data – within and outwith the Partnership  - so they can be put to best use
  • Ensuring best practice – in order for information on seabirds to be scientifically robust and effective, high and consistent standards of field methods, data storage, use and analysis need to be established and promulgated.
  • Exchanging skills – the depth and breadth of experience and skills within the Partnership will be focused on common goals and will help to deliver these most efficiently.

Functions of the Partnership


Sven Rasmussan (seated) from the Scottish Wildlife Trust signs the Statement of Intent watched by Ian Mitchell (left) and Matt Parsons from JNCC © JNCCIdentification of trends and vulnerable species – one fundamental question that we need to answer is ‘what is the state of seabird populations?’ In order to answer this we need to determine if numbers of seabirds are increasing or decreasing and if populations are functioning properly (e.g. are they producing enough young.) This can only be achieved using a comprehensive, representative and robust dataset that can produce accurate trends in abundance and breeding success. The SMP partnership is working together to implement a sampling strategy that will enable trends to be discerned at various geographical scales appropriate to the remit of partner organisations, for use for example in the compilation of indicators (e.g. the UK Sustainable Development Strategy indicators).


Identification of causes of change – information from the SMP has been used in the scientific literature to investigate the causes of change in seabird populations. Examples include the role of changes in sea surface temperature and fishing in the breeding success and survival of kittiwakes and the effect of non-native mammalian predators on the abundance of puffins.


Helping to implement national and international legislation – information from the SMP has, for example, been used to identify Special Protection Areas (SPA) under the EU Birds Directive. A crucial element of SPA management is the regular monitoring of population trends, to which the SMP contributes.



Did you know? During the 20-year history of the SMP, in Britain and Ireland…


  • An arctic tern breeding in Shetland and wintering in Antarctica will have migrated over 700,000km, enough for it to have flown to the moon and back.
  • Guillemots consumed over 4 million tonnes of fish, equivalent to eating the weight of 2,000 blue whales each year.
  • Kittiwakes  produced over 6 million chicks (though only a proportion will have survived to breed).
  • The oldest known living wild bird, a Manx shearwater found breeding on Bardsey Island, NW Wales was already over 35 years old when the SMP started.
  • It would take one person at least 1,000 breeding seasons  to collect the 56,000 species records that  have already contributed to the SMP.




At the launch Partners were shown recent developments in web-based reporting and recording. Information collated by the SMP will be presented in raw and analysed formats at www.jncc.gov.uk/seabirds  featuring up-to-date species-by-species presentation of trends in breeding abundance, success and other demographic parameters. Furthermore, contributors to the SMP now submit their seabird colony counts via www.jncc.gov/smp, allowing accurate and rapid submission and collation of the most recent information.

Matt Parsons

Seabird Monitoring Programme Coordinator

Tel: +44 (0) 1224 655715