That pun was always going to happen, let’s face it.
Firstly, and most importantly, a petition has been launched to ask Natural Resources Wales to reinstate funding for our guillemot study. It would be great if you could sign it, so here’s why:
For over 40 years we have been studying productivity and survival of guillemots on Skomer Island, as well as monitoring dates of laying, hatching and fledging. Seabirds live for a long time (many of the birds I study are older than me!) and guillemots only start breeding when they are 6 or 7 years old, producing a maximum of 1 chick each year until they die around 25 years old. The time lag in returning to the colony means that changes in survival can take years to become apparent in the population.
Most UK populations of guillemots are declining. Skomer is one of the few colonies where the guillemot population is increasing, so it is important to assess how and why this population is different. Fluctuations in seabird populations indicate changes elsewhere in the ecosystem, so monitoring seabird colonies helps us to assess population changes in other species. For example, we think that overfishing has reduced the numbers of larger fish, which in turn has increased the numbers of smaller fish such as sprats and herrings which the guillemots eat. This raises questions about the effects of overfishing and sea stocks. Survival and productivity may be negatively affected by changes in currents and rising sea levels which could force the birds to forage further from the colony than usual. The big C-words, climate change, are also responsible for the huge storms this winter which caused the recent seabird wreck, one of the worst in history and estimated to include 16000 dead guillemots, which could have a devastating effect on auk populations now and in years to come.
Without this long-term study we would not be able to predict how species respond to a changing environment, because it takes time for the effects to become evident in the guillemot population. We would not know that the breeding season is now 2 weeks later than it was 40 years ago, nor that the main source of food given to chicks is changing, nor that breeding success has increased, and more. This information cannot be gained from simple colony counts or shorter studies. If NRW do not reinstate funding, then this year is likely to be the end of an informative, meaningful, useful study.
Natural Resources Wales have funded our study for the last 5 years, yet at this critical point the funding has been cut. The £12,000 annual allowance needed to keep this study going is pittance in the millions of pounds they have to allocate to projects. The study is there – we have a huge database, we know the colonies around the island, we know the history of the island population. Our findings are published and widely available, and are used by other seabird monitoring programs. Cutting funding for this study will stop us gaining vital information, which will not be rectifiable if a new study is set-up in a few years when NRW realise their mistake. If we want to understand the effect of the recent wreck on guillemot colonies, or in other words, if we want to understand and act against the effect of humankind’s abominable treatment of the natural world, then this study needs to be continued. Please sign here, and forward it to your friends and neighbours.
If you have the time, you could also email NRW and share your thoughts with them.
If you need convincing from a far more eloquent person, watch Iolo Williams:
In other news, the first egg has been laid on the Amos: at 6.30am on 5th May 2014 it was a healthy blue colour, around 12% of the guillemot body weight, both parents have been incubating it and appear to be delighted. There are now 14 eggs on the Amos (2 have already been lost/eaten/abandoned). It is a relief to finally watch some incubating birds.
Artist Chris Wallbank specialises in drawing entire guillemot colonies, and has been battling the elements over the last few days to draw the guillemot loomeries at Bull Hole and the Amos as part of a collaboration for Festival of the Mind. I am excited to see what he produces!
The forecast threatens us with high winds and bad weather, so all the overnight visitors and volunteers left yesterday. The 11 of us remaining are marooned here until at least Tuesday, content with the angel delight and oatcakes we inherited from the people leaving.