Page last updated at 16:44 GMT, Monday, 10 August 2009 17:44 UK

Signs of recovery for sea birds

Kittiwakes (Pic:RSPB)
Kittiwakes have seen increased breeding success

Seabird numbers across Scotland appear to recovering this year after almost a decade of continuous decline, according to bird watchers.

Bird monitors have found some key species, such as terns, shags and kittiwakes, have seen a significant increase in breeding success.

It is thought this could be due to a rise in the amount of food available.

Experts however cautioned that the recovery had been patchy and it was too early to draw long term conclusions.

Martin Heubeck of Aberdeen University, who has been monitoring seabird colonies in Shetland for several decades, said: "I've almost stopped predicting what the seabirds are going to do.

"It's very difficult to know. All I can say is it's nice to see some stability, so just 'enjoy it while we can' is my attitude to it now."

Deryk Shaw runs the world famous Fair Isle Bird Observatory. He said bird numbers had been declining over a long period - in both 2004 and 2008 there were complete failures of every kind of breeding bird.

He said many traditional nesting sites were totally empty for several years, but 2009 has seen them being populated again.

"Promising" reports

"This year has been really good," he said. "Almost all species have done better than in recent years.

"Recent years have been so depressing. You'd go into the colonies and it's just silence, whereas this year we'd go down into the big colonies and there'd be lots and lots of noise, birds all around and chicks."

Helen Moncrieff, Sumburgh head bird warden with the RSPB in Shetland, puts the recovery down to an increase in available food.

She said she has seen birds like puffins coming in with their beaks full of small fish like sandeels.

She said: "At the beginning of the breeding season it sometimes looks like it might be promising but you never want to be too optimistic and in the past it's been just dire. But this year it really makes you feel blyde (happy) that it's been a better year."

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