Saturday, 16 July 2011

Bardsey birds and their SatNavs

Baby manx shearwater
Bardsey is beautiful and so are the birds; I’ve never been so close to puffins.‘If I drive straight up, they fly off’, said Colin the boatman, as we reversed up to them. On land I was lucky enough to meet someone monitoring the manx shearwaters. Like a magician, he put his hand into what looked like a rabbit hole, and carefully pulled out a large grey ball of fluff. ‘The parents have just the one chick and soon it will fly 7,000 miles to Argentina’

We climbed to the top of the cliff overlooking Aberdaron and Uwchmynydd. Our main interest was the kittiwake colony below but I couldn’t help be distracted when a squadron of attention-seeking choughs screamed past at eye level. Across Britain kittiwakes have declined by 30% in the past 10 years but here in Wales they seem to be holding their own.

John Clark, marine policy officer for RSPB Cymru, explained the project to attach GPS devices to the kittiwakes. The gadget records data for 3 days and, when downloaded, is used to produce maps – the one I looked at showed the bird to be feeding several miles out, mainly to the southwest. 

On the razorbills they are also attaching TDR gadgets where D stands for depth. Through these they can monitor not only where, but how deep, the birds are diving.

The output of the research, which feeds into FAME (Future of the Atlantic Marine Environment), a much wider project spanning the Atlantic coast of Europe, will help inform us when we make decisions on developments at sea. Not guesswork nor assumption but science and painstaking monitoring over many years – we can’t afford to get this wrong.

Right now decisions are about to be made about Marine Conservation Zones around the Welsh coast. Colin’s hoping that Bardsey waters will not be one of them, as that would scupper his lobster business. He believes his activities are sustainable and can live side by side with conservation.

Apart from the wildlife you’d expect we also had a rare sighting of the BBC Countryfile team as they filmed the family that lives and farms on the island. 

For more information about Bardsey (Ynys Enlli), and details of how to get there, take a look at the website for the Bardsey Island Trust.

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