• Gannet
  • Spotted Flycatcher
  • Chaffinch
  • Yellow Wagtail
  • Whimbrel
  • Dunnock
  • Oystercatchers
  • Redwing

The recent highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) outbreak has unleashed devasting impacts globally, with numerous seabirds showing significant declines in Britain since 2022.  Whilst there have been no signs of HPAI among the island's cliff-nesting seabirds to date, positive cases were confirmed for Herring Gull in 2023, as well as within auk populations on neighbouring the Pembrokeshire islands and beyond. To help assess the impacts HPAI locally, the RSPB and Lundy Bird Observatory conducted a census of one the island's most important breeding sites earlier this month.

Guillemots Lundy Andrew CleaveGuillemots © Andrew Cleave

Methodology

RSPB staff members (Paul St Pierre & Leigh Lock) surveyed a sub-section of the island in early June with support from the Lundy Bird Observatory team (Joe Parker, Thomas Weston & Lucy Pécasse). Jenny’s Cove supports over 50% of Lundy's breeding auks and selected as the ideal location to sample the population. Birds were counted from land-based vantage points used in previous all-island surveys which date back to 1981. Following the previous methodology, all individuals of Guillemot, Razorbill, and Puffin were counted while Apparently Occupied Nests (AON) were logged for both Fulmar and Kittiwake.

Results

The results table below compares the seabird census of Jenny's Cove between 2023 and 2024. Figures relate to the number of individuals (ind.) present at breeding sites for all auks and Apparently Occupied Nests (AON) for both Kittiwake and Fulmar.

2024 Seabird Survey Table

Table 1. Comparison of cliff-nesting seabirds breeding at Jenny's Cove, Lundy between 2023 and 2024.

Puffin 20230604Recent RSPB/LBO survey indicates Lundy's Puffin population is up 34% on last season © Joe Parker

Conclusion

The census did not detect any obvious effects of HPAI on Lundy's cliff-nesting seabirds, reporting ongoing population expansions for nearly every species surveyed. Sadly, this does not align with the national picture as many other colonies are reporting significant declines - see reports from Isle of May, NE Scotland, Skokholm and Farnes - which further underlines the importance of safeguarding Lundy's seabird colonies.

All species showed significant increases on the previous season except Fulmar, following the general trend since the seabird recovery project was completed in 2004. Furthermore, the notable increase for Kittiwake bucks the national trend and follows a consistent expansion following the rat eradication, coupled with excellent breeding success logged on Lundy last season. The 2023 all-island cliff-nesting survey detected a decline in Fulmar, so this is likely to be linked to a national trend.

What more can be done?

While this report is overwhelmingly positive news for Lundy's seabirds, continued monitoring of breeding colonies and preserving the island's rat-free status are paramount. Rodents stowed away on vessels could comfortably swim for a couple of kilometres, so ongoing checks ensure our nationally important seabird colony can breed in peace. We are delighted to work with the Biosecurity for LIFE project and recently welcomed the team over to conduct a routine check for rat signs and talk biosecurity measures. Dogs have 300 million scent receptors compared to our six million, making for an ideal companion to detect rodents. Rather than relying solely on passive surveillance techniques such as wax blocks, the ability to add an active detection technique to our biosecurity toolkit is a real game changer!

Thanks for invaluable colour-marking studies, we understand that seabirds move between colonies (e.g. Skomer-raised Guillemots breeding on Lundy), therefore ongoing checks for sick birds must continue. Should you come across a dead bird while visiting Lundy, please do not touch the carcass and inform the warden promptly. Lundy Bird Observatory continues to work closely with Natural England and Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) to gather data and swab any carcasses for testing.

The conservation importance of Lundy as a seabird breeding site is clear and growing, recently becoming the third largest cliff-nesting seabird colony in England behind Flamborough SPA and the Northumberland Coast SPA. Supporting over 40,000 breeding seabirds, the island is also working alongside RSPB to push for Special Protection Area (SPA) status to safeguard seabird foraging grounds and flyways for future generations.

 20240611 Conservation Detection Dog VisitBiosecurity for England/RSPB team on MS Oldenburg during recent visit to Lundy. Left to right: Laura Bambini (Senior Seabird Recovery Officer), Kuki (Conservation Detection Dog), Joe Parker (Lundy Warden) and Tessa Coledale (Biosecurity Officer England) © Joe Parker