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EDITIONS
 Thursday, 5 December, 2002, 17:34 GMT
Move to protect rare bird
common scoter, picture from RSPB
The male common scoter has a completely black plumage
Plans to protect Carmarthen Bay, the winter home of the common scoter one of the UK's rarest birds, are to go out to public consultation.

If the bay is designated a Special Protection Area (SPA) it would be the first in the UK to be awarded for marine birds.

An oiled scoter, picture from the Wildlife and Wetlands Trust
An oiled scoter

The move would also safeguard the area from possible enemies of the bird such as oil spills, shell fish farming and wind farm developments.

The breed was devastated by the Sea Empress oil spill in 1996 which resulted in thousands of dead birds being pulled out of the water.

"We had around 4,000 birds recovered dead after the oil spill but that was only a proportion of the total number which would have died," said senior ornithologist Sian Whitehead, from the Countryside Council for Wales.

The scoter breeds in the Artic and north Scotland but then flies home to Wales to over-winter in the bay, although some young birds stay all year.

There are now only 200 pairs in the whole of the UK and it is recognised as a nationally-threatened species.

The Sea Empress
The Sea Empress ran aground off West Wales

Experts have studied the bird since 1998 and it is now the focus of the Common Scoter Biodiversity Action Plan.

The recently-announced public consultation has been given the green light by Welsh Minister for Environment Sue Essex.

Mrs Whitehead said if the consultation goes ahead as planned the bay could be a SPA by sometime next year.

Power

She said: "People would not see any difference on the ground but the main impact is the added level of protection.

"It would give more power to control plans, not necessarily saying we would stop development but we would be statutory consultees."

Oil drilling projects or aggregate extraction could also threaten the species which has seen its breeding pairs in Scotland drop from 55 in 1988 to just 28 in 1996.

Sue Essex AM, who announced the new drive to save the bird on Thursday, said: "This site supports a number of other bird species, by providing important feeding and resting areas in both summer and winter.

"The proposed Carmarthen Bay SPA is considered to be the most important site in Britain for wintering common scoters."


More from south west Wales
See also:

11 Nov 01 | Science/Nature
13 Jan 99 | Science/Nature
25 Nov 02 | Wales
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