National Trust Purbeck Wildlife

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Seabirds on the Edge

Kittiwakes nest on sheer cliffs

It comes as quite a shock when a bird you are familiar with is reported as being at risk of global extinction. So my heart sank when I read that kittiwake has just been added to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List (IUCN is the global authority on the status of the natural world and the measures needed to safeguard it).

Kittiwakes are a type of seagull but a true seabird as they are ocean-going, only coming to the cliffs between April and July to raise their young. Around 30 pairs nest on the Purbeck Coast but the vast majority of British birds are in northern England and Scotland. I have worked at and visited many seabird colonies, including NT’s Farne Islands, where the sound of thousands of nesting kittiwakes is a stirring part of these wildlife spectacles.

Their decline is likely to be the result of overfishing of sandeels for animal feed and fertiliser and rising sea surface temperatures reducing the abundance of plankton on which sandeels feed.