Rare seabirds disturbed by Scottish marine traffic

02 Sep 2022 | No. 2022-14

New research undertaken by the British Trust for Ornithology has shown that some seabirds that spend the winter months in inshore Scottish waters are highly sensitive to disturbance by marine traffic.

Traffic in the marine environment has increased globally to unprecedented levels in recent years. The expansion of renewable energy generation, dredging for aggregates, aquaculture, cruise tourism and shipping volumes are either directly or indirectly resulting in higher levels of shipping, often in ecologically sensitive areas.

Marine traffic can negatively affect species and ecosystems in various ways, including direct mortality from collisions, increased pollution, the transportation and release of non-native species and disturbance. This latest research aimed to provide up-to-date information on how responses to marine traffic varied between different seabirds to help inform those involved in marine planning and environmental impact assessments in the near-shore environment.

The responses of eleven target seabird species to passing vessels was recorded on ferry trips in Orkney, with responses of over 6,000 flocks recorded. Red-throated Diver, Slavonian Grebe and Black-throated Diver exhibited the highest sensitivity to marine traffic, with high proportions of individuals or flocks taking evasive action. The species showing the lowest sensitivity to marine traffic were Black Guillemot, Common Eider and European Shag.  

David Jarrett, lead BTO scientist on the research, said, 'A robust understanding of how different species are affected by marine traffic is needed to responsibly manage our marine environment. This research contributes to that process by highlighting those species that need to be managed more sensitively, and those species that appear able to tolerate higher levels of marine traffic.'
The full paper can be accessed here.

Contact Details

Tom Stewart (BTO Media Manager)
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Mike Toms (Head of Communications)
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Notes for editors

This work was funded by the Contract Research Fund, administered by the Scottish Government Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services.

BTO is the UK's leading bird research charity. A growing membership and up to 60,000 volunteer birdwatchers contribute to BTO's surveys, collecting information that underpins conservation action in the UK. BTO maintains a staff of 100 at its offices in Thetford, Stirling, Bangor (Wales) and Belfast (Northern Ireland), who analyse and publicise the results of surveys and projects. BTO's work is funded by BTO supporters, government, trusts, industry and conservation organisations. www.bto.org

Bird Study is a journal published by Taylor & Francis on behalf of BTO. Taylor & Francis Group partners with researchers, scholarly societies, universities and libraries worldwide to bring knowledge to life.  As one of the world’s leading publishers of scholarly journals, books, ebooks and reference works, its content spans all areas of Humanities, Social Sciences, Behavioural Sciences, Science, Technology and Medicine. From its network of offices in Oxford, New York, Philadelphia, Boca Raton, Boston, Melbourne, Singapore, Beijing, Tokyo, Stockholm, New Delhi and Cape Town, Taylor & Francis staff provide local expertise and support to its editors, societies and authors and tailored, efficient customer service to our library colleagues.

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