Conference highlights international importance of Pembrokeshire’s seabirds

Just a few short weeks after the massive wrecks of dead seabirds across the western coast of Europe, a conference in Cardiff has highlighted the international importance of Pembrokeshire’s seabird colonies, particularly on the islands of Skomer and Skokholm.

The conference took place at Cardiff University on 3rd of April- coincidentally, the date the first puffin landed back on Skomer to breed, after a stormy winter at sea.

Guillemot by Dave Boyle

Guillemot by Dave Boyle

Wildlife broadcaster Iolo Williams was in attendance and speakers included foremost seabird and marine research scientists from across Britain. The conference focussed strongly on the value of long term monitoring, but also examined some of the truly novel techniques being trialled in Wales. This includes tracking the birds when they are away from the islands, allowing us to understand more fully their lives at sea, and predict and mitigate the impacts of climate change, fisheries, and developments such as offshore wind farms.

Professor Tim Birkhead from the University of Sheffield described how his 42 year study of Guillemots on Skomer provides an incredibly detailed long term dataset. He explained how this study allows us to understand better the impacts of disasters such as oil pollution events or this year’s severe weather, much more than bird counts alone could ever do. Professor

Chris Perrins from the Edward Grey Institute for Field Ornithology in Oxford demonstrated how long term studies of the Manx Shearwater on Skomer have informed our understanding of this truly oceanic bird, for which Wales has an unique level of responsibility. He described how this research allows us to deliver our international obligations for the protection of this species, with over half of the world’s population breeding on these tiny islands.

Phil Newman from Natural Resources Wales spoke about the importance of their work in the Skomer Marine Nature Reserve, and the increases in marine wildlife that have been observed since the reserve’s creation.

The conference was jointly organised by Cardiff University, the University of Sheffield, Natur, and the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales. Sarah Kessell, chief executive of the Wildlife Trust, said “we were fortunate to be joined today by some of the most renowned researchers in marine and seabird ecology from across Britain.

The islands are already well known as a tourist destination, but this really emphasises how important Welsh seabirds also are to conservation and research in a global context. It was a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the cutting edge research taking place on our islands.”

Iolo Williams, closing the conference, reflected on the significance of Welsh seabirds. He said, “when I’m speaking to people all across Wales, they all ask me, ‘when is the best time and place to see Puffins’? People really do care about our seabirds. Not only do we have a duty to protect them, but Skomer and Skokholm are amazing places for people to experience large numbers seabirds for themselves- up close and personal.

The fact that we have decades of uninterrupted data for these seabird colonies is something of which Wales can be very proud. It’s essential that we recognise the value of this work. In a world of increasing pressures on our wildlife, this information will be more important than ever.”

Find out more about how you can help research out on Skomer Island