Monday, April 12, 1999 Published at 10:04 GMT 11:04 UK
Survey to assess status of UK seabirds
Seabirds: Indicators for the health of the oceans
Conservation groups have begun the biggest ever survey of seabirds nesting around the UK coastline.
Seabird 2000 is the third census of the millions of seabirds that nest on the cliffs and rocks around Britain and Ireland each spring and summer.
However, new techniques that allow counting in even the most inaccessible nesting sites mean this survey will be the most accurate yet.
It is also likely to provide clues about how birds are affected by overfishing. It might even be possible to see the effects of global warming, as changes in sea currents hit the food supplies on which some birds rely.
"We've got 28,000 miles of coastline to cover," said Seabird 2000 Project Co-ordinator Dr Ian Mitchell. "We're really interested in seeing how many species are actually breeding, not just the numbers of birds using the cliffs."
He said the survey, once complete, would become an invaluable research tool.
Chris Harbard from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) said many bird species act as indicators for the health of the oceans.
"The catalogue of seabirds will enable us to protect our coastlines and marine environment in a way that will enable the seabirds to thrive in the future."
The survey, which is costing £250,000, is funded by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) in partnership with the RSPB.
It will take until July 2001 to complete. Progress during the first six months of the census can be followed via a special Seabird 2000 Website hosted by the JNCC's own site.