Northern Ireland’s seabirds receive an annual health check-up.

Northern Ireland's seabirds receive an annual health check-up.

A mixed bag was made for Northern Ireland’s seabirds in 2020, but it confirms the importance of the country’s coastline to its 20 breeding seabird species. Voluntary surveillance of seabirds was badly affected by COVID-19 restrictions in 2020. However, surveys by the National Trust and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds found that tern colonies in Northern Ireland with Sandwich and Common had a disastrous year, terns are experiencing some of their lowest numbers on record.

Despite the decline in terns, many seabirds had good breeding seasons. 2020 was a record year for guillemots on Muck Island. Ulster Wildlife recorded 3,107 people in the colony last summer. This is the highest number since the first record in 1987.

Although the black-legged kittiwake populations in the UK have seen a long-term decline overall, the decline in Northern Ireland has been much slower, with some colonies actually increasing. Kittiwakes in particular are getting stronger in South Co. Down, with the colony there increasing every year since 2015 (from 483 pairs to 717 pairs). Also in County Down, lucky volunteers were able to follow the breeding success of a colony of 22 pairs of black guillemots as they reared 11 young birds opposite their home during the lockdown. This good news for Northern Irish seabirds can only be reported year after year because of the dedicated efforts of our Seabird Network volunteers.

Kittiwake, Copyright Glyn Sellors, from the Surfbirds Galleries

Dr. Katherine Booth Jones, Northern Ireland Seabird Coordinator for the BTO, says, “The Northern Ireland Seabird Network is a special collaboration between volunteer seabird surveyors, the BTO, NIEA, RSPB and the National Trust, without which we could not follow the fate of our seabirds in these themselves changing times. While we’ve seen winners and losers in 2020, the number of seabirds in colonies can vary from year to year depending on weather conditions and when. As a result, our volunteers’ annual survey of seabird numbers is particularly valuable for capturing long-term changes in Northern Ireland. ”

Dr. Neil McCulloch, ornithologist for the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, says: “Seabirds are an important part of Northern Ireland’s biodiversity. These species are currently under pressure from a variety of threats across Western Europe, including the effects of climate change and pollution, and some are in decline. Up-to-date information about changes in seabird numbers and breeding success is essential for planning conservation measures. We are therefore very fortunate that this data is available in Northern Ireland for much of our coastline through the efforts of the many dedicated volunteers and partner organizations of the Northern Ireland Seabird Network. It’s a great example of the benefits of citizen science. “

If you are interested in seabird monitoring in Northern Ireland or would like to complete a one-time survey for the final year of the Seabirds Count census, please contact the Seabird Coordinator ([email protected] (mailto: katherine). [email protected])) will be added to the Northern Ireland Seabird Network. The following Google Drive online also provides some simple introductions to monitoring common species in Northern Ireland:, which are also available from the Seabird Coordinator on request.

The 2020 Northern Ireland Seabirds Report has the latest updates for all 20 seabirds that breed in Northern Ireland. Read the full report