End of guillemot study will have severe repercussions, says expert

A CRY FOR HELP: The Skomer guillemot study is unlikely to continue beyond this summer. PIC: Professor Tim Birkhead (7941889)

BIRDS OF A FEATHER: A group of guillemots, including one with a yellow ring that is part of the study population. PIC: Professor Tim Birkhead (7941926)

First published in News

A leading professor has said that the cessation of an established sea bird monitoring programme on Skomer Island could have repercussions on the coastal bird population of the UK.

For 40 years Professor Tim Birkhead, of the University of Sheffield, has been studying the guillemot population on Skomer . At the beginning of this year Natural Resources Wales told Prof Birkhead that funding had been pulled.

Sheffield University has extended funding for the project for this summer.

Prof Birkhead said that his team has developed a sophisticated monitoring system, which will now be replaced by something far less effective.

“We have a moral responsibility to monitor what’s happening to all aspects of bird life and to do so we need a sophisticated monitoring system. That’s what we have spent the last 40 years developing," he said.

“I would say the other monitoring (on Skomer) is not fit for purpose. It’s like having invented the aeroplane but still going on foot.”

Prof Birkhead said that detailed, sophisticated research is essential if we are to understand why the “bird wreck” of earlier this year occurred and to apply the lessons of Skomer to elsewhere in Britain.

“In general sea bird populations around the coast of Britain are in dire trouble. Skomer guillemot population is just one of a handful that is doing okay at the moment, the population is actually going up.

“If we can figure out what is happening on Skomer that might help us solve the problem elsewhere.”

A spokesman for Natural Resources Wales said that they had stepped in six years ago to secure the Skomer research when the funding was under threat.

The spokesman said that that funding ended last April and that it had informed the University of Sheffield in advance that it was highly unlikely that the funding would be extended.

“We continue to fund monitoring of sea birds, including the guillemot, on Skomer and Skokholm, through the JNCC as part of the UK-wide Seabird Monitoring Programme,” said the spokesman.

“We are also in the process of consulting on plans to extend the protection for sea birds at key places like Skomer and Skokholm.”

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