SEABIRDS which live off the cliffs at Beachy Head are not being protected, according to the RSPB.
Despite the UK being globally renowned for its immense populations of seabirds – including puffins, shearwaters, petrels, kittiwakes, terns and gannets – laws to designate marine protected areas in England and Wales are failing these iconic species because too few seabird sites are being protected, says the charity.
Most seabird nesting sites are already protected, but the areas where they feed at sea are not, meaning that these species are only generally afforded protection on land.
The UK Government has an international commitment to designate a comprehensive network of marine protected areas by the end of 2012.
But the RSPB says that for seabirds, at least, the UK is on course to fail because the number of sites being considered is woefully inadequate and in some cases seabirds are being excluded from the designation process.
The waters off Beachy Head in East Sussex are one of the sites proposed for designation as a Marine Conservation Zone, but for which there are no specific protection measures for seabirds.
This is despite it being an important feeding area for Kittiwakes, Common Tern and Sandwich Tern, all of which are listed as species of conservation concern in the UK.
Among the well-known colonies foraging in these waters are the Kittiwakes that nest along the cliff faces at Seaford.
Dave Burges, RSPB South East conservation project officer, said, “Just as the Kittiwakes clearly prefer certain parts of the coastline for nesting, there are also certain areas in the sea where we know they regularly go to forage for food.
“With Kittiwakes now being red-listed due to the fall in their numbers across the UK, and the main problem being a food shortage, it’s not enough to just protect the cliff faces where they nest – protection of their foraging sites is needed just as urgently.
“Including seabirds as a key part of the Beachy Head Marine Conservation Zone would ensure that they have to be taken into consideration when decisions are made on how the area can be used.”
To sign a pledge urging the UK Government ministers to ensure that seabirds are safeguarded at sea visit this website: www.rspb.org.uk/marinepetition.