Scilly is incredibly important for breeding Seabirds!

What is the “Isles of Scilly Special Protection Area”?

Special Protection Areas (SPA's) are strictly protected sites classified in accordance with Article 4 of the EC Birds Directive. They are classified for rare and vulnerable birds (as listed on Annex I of the Directive) and for regularly occurring migratory species. The Isles of Scilly SPA is a terrestrial (land) site which has a boundary which reflects the most important breeding locations for seabirds and highlights the unique importance of the Isles of Scilly in supporting a greater diversity of breeding seabirds than any other site in England, with over 8,000 breeding pairs of 13 different species. The designation has been in place since 2001 and gives special mention to protection of internationally important populations of European storm petrel and Lesser black-backed gull which qualify for protection in their own right and not just as part of the wider breeding seabird populations. 

How important are the Isles of Scilly for Seabirds?

The Isles of Scilly are regionally, nationally and internationally important for breeding seabirds both in terms of number of birds and diversity of species.  Having:

  • Over 8,000 pairs of 13 species of breeding seabird supported: Manx shearwaterFulmar, Storm petrel, Shag, Cormorant, Great black-backed gull, Lesser black-backed gull, Herring gull, Kittiwake, Common tern, Puffin, Razorbill and Guillemot;
  • Breeding seabirds distributed across 50+ sites throughout the archipelago;
  • Internationally important numbers of Lesser black-backed gull and Storm petrel;
  • Nationally important numbers of Great black-backed gull and Shag;
  • Regionally important numbers of Puffin, Razorbill, Manx shearwater, Fulmar and Common tern;
  • and being one of only two sites in England where Manx Shearwater and Storm petrel are currently known to breed (the other is Lundy).

How are Seabirds doing at the moment?

We have a great set of data on seabird numbers in Scilly with regular all-island counts completed since 1970.  In April 2018 the Trust employed a Seabird Ecologist to continue this programme of important seabird research.

A number of reports document the survey findings in more detail, but these are some of the main points;

  • The overall number of breeding seabird pairs declined by 31.4% between 1983 and 2015/16;
  • Annual counts of Annet;breeding numbers have fallen by 29% since 2000 (mainly a reduction in Herring and Lesser black-backed gull numbers);
  • Common tern – steep decline in numbers, with total breeding failure in 5 of the last 8 years; could soon be lost as a breeding species;
  • Kittiwake – 89% drop in numbers and loss of 5 sub-colonies since 2006, with total breeding failure in 6 of the last 12 years; major driver of this appears to be reduced food availability
  • Herring gull, Lesser black backed gull and Shag breeding populations have all declined by over 20% since 2006
  • Manx shearwater – numbers trebled from 171 pairs in 2006 to 523 pairs in 2015; this is likely due to recruitment from nearby shearwater populations on Lundy and further afield in Wales following the removal of rats from St Agnes & Gugh;
  • The successful removal of rats from St Agnes and Gugh in 2013 has resulted in the first successful breeding of Manx shearwaters there in living memory, as well as the first confirmed breeding by Storm petrels in 2015;
  • Since 2006 there has been a marked increase in the numbers of both Razorbill and Guillemots across the islands, whilst Puffins have remained relatively stable.

Further details can be found here at

How important are Seabirds to the Isles of Scilly tourism industry?

We know from our 2017 “Valuing the Landscapes” survey of visitors to Scilly, that 70% of respondents cited the natural environment as a very important reason for deciding to visit our Islands.  No specific research has been carried out regarding the importance of birds but given that they are such a prominent part of our natural environment it would be reasonable to assume that they are incredibly important. 

In addition to this, the 2017 “Valuing the Landscapes” survey of visitors to Scilly resulted in a conservative estimate of £25.5 million being the value of visits to Scilly motivated by the natural environment – again, it is reasonable to assume that a proportion of this would be as a direct result of the seabirds.

How will the proposed extension to the Special Protection Area make a difference to Seabirds in Scilly? 

The current SPA gives these breeding bird species protection whilst on land; the proposed extension expands into the marine environment to ensure that seabird species are also protected whilst foraging, resting, preening and socialising at sea. Two new features proposed for inclusion are breeding populations of European shag and Great black-backed gull which now qualify in their own right and not just part of the wider breeding seabird populations.

The Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust believes that any additional protection that our seabirds receive should be welcomed as their populations are suffering not just locally, but globally.  The Trust will be responding in support of the proposed marine extension to the current terrestrial SPA.

How can you have your say?

Natural England is undertaking a formal consultation regarding a proposed marine extension to the Isles of Scilly Special Protection Area (SPA), which commences today. The consultation will run from 26 February 2019 to 21 May 2019.

For details on how to respond to the proposal, the formal consultation pack may be accessed via the Defra website (

If you have any comments or queries, or would like to respond to the proposals during the pSPA formal consultation, please either follow the link to the consultation page and use the online survey (, e-mail the local Team at: [email protected]