Sandeel fishing ban could be lifeline for seabird population on Coquet Island - RSPB

Kris Jepson visited Coquet Island to find out what impact a ban on sandeel fishing could have on the seabird population

A ban on sandeel fishing in the North Sea could be a lifeline for seabirds on the Northumberland coast, say conservationists.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has welcomed the introduction of the government ban which it claims will help protect and benefit seabirds nesting on Coquet Island, including puffins, razorbills and roseate terns.

The ban means there will be more food for the 50,000 pairs of seabirds that nest on the island, a mile off the coast from Amble, over the next few months.

Stephen Westerberg, from the RSPB, currently lives and works on the island and said the ban is timely after a difficult two years dealing with a bird flu outbreak, which depleted the seabird population.

He told ITV Tyne Tees: "Several species declined last year after two years of bird flu and black headed gulls were really badly affected last year, so it’s really important that they have food to increase productivity."

Coquet Island is home to 50,000 pairs of seabirds that nest there. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

The RSPB has been campaigning for the ban for 20 years, but Stephen said there is no room for complacency with bird numbers expected to decline by as much as 90 per cent by 2050 due to numerous factors.

"Climate change, the warming of the sea, you know, it’s just a change in their environment, and it is leading to a decline in our seabirds," he continued.

"Most of the seabirds here on Coquet Island are eating sandeels, so this closure of the sandeel fishery will have a beneficial effect for these birds. There’ll be more food for them.

"When you see the chicks starving sometimes when there’s a real lack of food, it’s really awful, but it’s really great to see some of these birds, like sandwich terns, bring in good sized sandeels and lots of sand eels, so you know there’s going to be really good productivity."

An area for roseate terns to nest on the island off the Northumberland coast. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

The annual return of the roseate tern is due imminently on Coquet Island, which is the only roseate tern colony in the UK, so work has been ongoing to ensure they are comfortable to nest.

Rebekah Goodwill, a warden on the island, told ITV News: "We do lots of maintenance work and lots of things to encourage them to stay here, because roseate terns are very faithful to sites where they have bred previously, and so we want to always ensure that they have somewhere where they can keep coming back to year on year, where they can breed.

"If this ban hadn’t taken effect and this fishing carried on in and around the North Sea, it wouldn’t be good for the colony at all.

"They would have had to go further afield and this colony, in the end, probably wouldn’t have lasted."

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