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‘Shear’ success for Lundy’s seabirds thanks to decades of conservation effort

Manx shearwater Puffinus puffinus, adult in flight at sea, Wales, July
  •  A project led by the RSPB, Natural England, the Landmark Trust and the National Trust on Lundy Island, in the Bristol Channel, celebrates another brilliant year for conservation as the highest number of seabirds are now calling the island home since the 1930s.
  • Manx Shearwater numbers on Lundy have reached over 25,000 individuals from fewer than 600 in 2001. Meanwhile the population of iconic Puffins has now reached a staggering 1335 birds, compared to just 13 individuals in 2000, prior to the partnership’s rat eradication programme.
  • Incredibly, despite the backdrop of a range of pressures on our seabirds including Avian Influenza, the number of species on the islands continue to increase as other rare birds are attracted to this nesting colony. This includes Storm Petrels, who first arrived on Lundy in 2014 and have risen in number to over 150 pairs.

Over 40,000 rare seabirds birds now call Lundy Island home, the highest number since the 1930’s, showing the impact that direct conservation can have in protecting and restoring species.

As one of England’s largest seabird colonies, surveys have shown that Lundy now supports 95% of England’s breeding Manx Shearwaters, with 25,000 individuals recorded, as well as 1335 Puffins and over 150 pairs of breeding Storm Petrels, a species that first arrived on the island in 2014 following conservation efforts.

These staggering figures are in stark contrast to the numbers found on Lundy back in 2000, at which time a national census survey found that the seabird population on the island was as low as 7,351 birds. Urgent action was needed to make the habitat safer for rare breeding seabirds such as Puffins, who were near extinction on the island, and Manx Shearwaters, the number of which had dropped to just 297 pairs in 2001.

In 2002 a partnership of the RSPB, the National Trust, the Landmark Trust and Natural England was formed to restore these seabird populations. Evidence from other important seabird islands revealed that the biggest threat to burrow nesting birds such as Manx Shearwaters and Puffins on Lundy was predation of the eggs and chicks by rats. The rats were imported unwittingly on ships visiting the island or from shipwrecks and following careful conservation work, Lundy Island was finally declared rat free in 2006. 

Since then, ongoing biosecurity work to stop rats from returning to the island on boats, and regular monitoring, has been tracking the progress of the seabird colony on Lundy, which has gone from strength to strength. It is now internationally important for breeding birds and one of England’s largest seabird colonies. 

UK seas and islands are globally important for many species, including Grey Seals, Puffins and Manx Shearwater. While many people may be aware of the plight of the Puffin, thanks to its bright beak and comical appearance, fewer people are aware that the UK holds over 80% of the world’s Manx Shearwater population, making conservation efforts like this critical to the global survival of the species. 

Manx Shearwater - Chris Gomersall (
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus taking flight from sea. Chris Gomersall (

Paul St Pierre, RSPB Conservation Officer, said  “Partnership projects like this show just how much potential there is to restore species and landscapes on an incredible scale. If we can restore over 30,000 birds to one small island in the Bristol Channel, just imagine how much could be achieved if everyone came together to restore nature right across the UK. Projects like this are achieved through decades of conservation science, expertise, funding and countless volunteer hours – everyone can play a part. 

“While Lundy is protected for many of its wonderful species, the surrounding waters still lack any protection for seabirds. These results are a clear sign that Lundy must be designated as a Special Protection Area for our vulnerable seabirds.”

Jonathan Fairhurst. Lead Ranger for the National Trust in North Devon said, “With so many UK seabird colonies under huge pressure from avian influenza in recent years, it is encouraging to see how quickly some species can recover when positive action is taken. It’s fantastic to see seabird numbers going from strength to strength on Lundy Island. This is a great example of how partnership working can work really well to create a positive outcome. Huge credit should go to the island staff, volunteers and the range of partners in the Lundy Management Forum who have worked so well together over the last twenty years for the benefit of people and wildlife on Lundy.”

Tim Frayling, Natural England marine ornithology team leader said: “It was an absolute pleasure to be involved with the Manx Shearwater survey again this year with a team of Natural England staff working alongside RSPB and Landmark Trust staff and volunteers. It is so exciting to see the Manx Shearwater population double once again. It really highlights the importance of partnership working to tackle the causes of our seabird declines, and the need to monitor the effects of those interventions. This is absolutely fantastic news!”

Derek Green, Lundy General Manager, said: ‘We’re delighted by the dramatic increase of seabirds on Lundy in recent years. This success is a real testament to collaborative efforts for conservation and we extend our thanks to our partners involved. Coming just months after the island’s re-admission to the Bird Observatories Network, these new figures recognise Lundy’s ever-growing importance nationally and for ornithological research. Conservation is at the heart of everything we do on the island and we look forward to continuing to nurture this very special place for future generations to enjoy.’

Atlantic puffin Fratercula arctica, adult standing amongst wildflowers, Skomer Island, Wales, May

Migratory Manx Shearwaters spend much of their time at sea and return to the UK shores to breed in the Spring. The secret lives of Manx Shearwaters, including their nocturnal first flights as chicks leave the nest, was revealed to the public earlier this year in the ‘Oceans’ episode of the Wild Isles BBC TV series, co-produced by the RSPB, WWF and The Open University.

Main image: Manx shearwater Puffinus puffinus, adult in flight at sea, Wales, July. Greg Morgan