Approximately 10 per cent of the world population of Europe’s most endangered seabird, the Balearic Shearwater, has visited UK inshore waters this year. The rising sea temperatures mean that over 1,200 Balearic Shearwaters were recorded near Land’s End alone.
Balearic Shearwaters are the only European seabird to be classified as ‘critically endangered’, and face extinction by 2050 if current rates of population decline are not reversed.
They are being driven UK waters because, as north-east Atlantic sea temperatures have risen by 0.6 degrees Celsius since the mid-1990s, the Balearic Shearwater’s prey has moved north, triggering the subsequent movement of the birds. The birds now have to move up to 400 miles further north in search of food.
The study, which is monitoring birds off the coast of south-west England, was carried out by the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).
Dr Russell Wynn, who is co-ordinating the SeaWatch SW survey, said in a statement: ‘Balearic Shearwaters leave their Mediterranean breeding colonies in late summer and head for richer feeding grounds along north Atlantic coasts. The numbers recorded during the survey this year show how important our inshore waters are to this highly vulnerable seabird.’
Dr Wynn continues: ‘Just 20 years ago Balearic Shearwaters were scarce visitors to South West waters, but they are now regularly recorded from headlands throughout the UK. Since 2003 we have even started seeing birds staying throughout the winter off Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, which is a completely new phenomenon linked to elevated winter sea temperatures.’