How to Help the Environment Right Now Through Citizen Science

July 18, 2022

Getting involved in citizen science projects is not only a fun way to connect with nature and new people, but it also contributes to conservation efforts and can help us to cope with eco-anxiety. And the best part is that anyone and everyone can get involved! You don’t need any qualifications or experience, just an enthusiasm for nature and willingness to get stuck in and follow guidelines from academics or environmental organisations. You can take part solo or in a group, make it work around your schedule, and as there are countless projects to choose from it's easy to find the perfect project to suit your interests.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

THE BIG SEAWEED SEARCH with the Marine Conservation Society

Seaweed provides energy and nutrients for wildlife, stores carbon and helps to mitigate the effects of climate change. But, as climate impacts intensify, the distribution of seaweed species is changing. The Marine Conservation Society are calling on the public to help them to better understand these changes by surveying coastlines between 23rd and 31st July, taking pictures of the seaweed species you find along the way. For the full details and online training sessions, visit them here.


THE BIG MICROPLASTIC SURVEY with the Marine Conservation Society

Microplastics are teeny tiny pieces of plastic, which despite being small are having a huge impact on our oceans and marine species. Animals can mistake them for food which can impact their feeding behaviour, growth and reproduction, and can be deadly. To better understand the prevalence of microplastics and influence policy, the Marine Conservation Society are asking us to head to the beach to carry out a microplastic survey. Click here for the guidelines to get involved.


THE BIG BUTTERFLY COUNT with Butterfly Conservation

Counting butterflies for the Big Butterfly Count and sharing your results helps scientists to understand changes in butterfly populations so work can be done to save them from extinction. Butterflies are also an indicator species as they react very quickly to environmental changes, so this data can also help conservationists to predict how other species may be impacted. All you need to do is count the butterflies that you see for 15 minutes any time between the 15th July and 7th August. You can count from wherever you like, from fields and forests to parks and playgrounds. Click here for the full guidelines and how to submit records.



Our gardens can be havens for nature, providing food, water, and places to rest and nest. The Wildlife Trust are curious to learn how welcoming UK gardens are for wildlife so that they can uncover which areas are most in need of more quality space for nature. You can help them by filling in their survey, and they will thank you with a score letting you know how wild your garden is and free gardening guides. Click here to find out more!


NATURE’S CALENDAR with the Woodland Trust

Nature's Calendar aims to monitor the effects of weather and climate change on wildlife. Record your sightings and observations of specific species, but make sure to check how often you need to do a follow up as it varies between species. Click here for the full instructions and how to submit your records.

NESTING NEIGHBOURS with the British Trust for Ornithology

Are you lucky enough to have birds nesting in your garden? If so, the BTO want to know about it! By monitoring nests through the breeding season, you can help them to better understand breeding success and what factors could be preventing successful outcomes. Click here for more information.

BUGS MATTER with the Kent Wildlife Trust and Buglife

To investigate the health of insect populations in the UK, the Kent Wildlife Trust and Buglife are asking drivers to measure bug splats! It's as simple as wiping your car's number plate before your journey, and counting the number of insects splatted within the 'splatometer' grid (which you can request to receive in the post or print at home). Then, snap a photo and submit it online with your count! Get the full instructions here.

FEATHER COLLECTION with the British Trust for Ornithology 


Enjoy taking part in citizen science projects from the comfort of your own home on Zooniverse where there are countless projects to choose from. You can assist NASA Scientists in identifying cloud type and cover, count penguins and their chicks and eggs so conservationists can better understand their lives, examine underwater photos of beluga whales, or transcribe historical records of shore birds to name a few! Click here to find the perfect project for you.


You can even do your own thing and submit sightings of any wildlife you see while out and about, whether that be during your commute to work or on a walk in the woods. There are many different platforms that you can use to submit your record such as iRecord or eBird. We have an article here all about biological recording where you can find out more!

Header image by Neil Fedorowycz via Unsplash

Positive Environmental News: 7 Stories That Show Conservation Works

June 04, 2022

Even though I know better, I have gotten back into the bad habit of disappearing down a rabbit hole of doomscrolling. It's known to leave us feeling overwhelmed and helpless, and also wastes energy that could be used to actually take action to help a cause. How doomscrolling makes me feel is one of the reasons that I started this blog in the first place, to encourage myself to look into success stories and remember that there are people making positive change around the world. And it actually helped! It's been a while since I shared a good news list, but this has been a much needed reminder to bring them back!

1. Without conservation efforts, Dartford Warbler would likely have disappeared from the UK after a population crash in the 1960's. But thanks to the creation and restoration of heathland, the birds are making a comeback, with 183 pairs counted in a 2021 survey. Heathland is one of the most threatened types of habitat in the UK, but many rare and threatened species depend on it, so these conservation efforts are expected to be good news for other species too.

2. Over the past 50 years, many mammals across Europe have made impressive comebacks after being driven to near extinction by hunting and habitat loss. Thanks to conservationists, populations of species including European bison, brown bear, Eurasian beaver, and Eurasian elk have seen dramatic increases.

"What these promising trends show is that the recovery of wildlife is possible ... And what has been essential has been the vital work of conservationists. From fighting for wildlife protection policies and hunting quotas, to reintroduction programmes, the dedication of determined individuals lies at the heart of this wild mammal comeback."

- Hannah Ritchie, Wild mammals are making a comeback in Europe thanks to conservation efforts

3. Populations of three of Britain's species of bat - the greater horseshoe bat, lesser horseshoe bat and common pipistrelle - are on the rise, with another six species remaining stable according to the a recent survey by the National Bat Monitoring Programme. Although news to be celebrated and undoubtedly a step in the right direction, the hard work is not over as bats remain vulnerable to pressures including landscape change, climate change and light pollution.

“These positive results indicate that strong legal protection works, and conservation action to protect and conserve bats is achieving success. It is vitally important that this continues ... This recovery is not by coincidence but thanks to sustained efforts and it brings us a step closer to achieving our vision of a world richer in wildlife where bats and people thrive together.”

-  Kit Stoner, Chief Executive of the Bat Conservation Trust

4. Giraffe numbers across Africa are up 20% since 2015, due to a mix of genuine growth and more accurate surveying methods, with conservation efforts on the ground, such as relocating giraffes to protected areas, thought to have had a profound impact. 

By Sutirta Budiman

5. Once a common sight across India, by 2017 vulture populations had decreased dramatically due to poisoning from diclofenac, a drug used to treat cattle. If vultures feed on dead cattle treated with the drug, they are tragically killed from kidney failure. However, efforts by conservationists to save vultures appear to be heading in the right direction, and although numbers of individuals are not yet back to healthy figures, populations of several vulture species have stabilised in recent years, with numbers expected to rise if conservation efforts continue.



Header image by Ray Hennessy

Positive Conservation News: 7 Recent Marine Success Stories

November 09, 2021


Beside the sea is my happy place, but it's been a while since I was last near the ocean and I'm missing the crashing sound of the waves and the salty, breezy air. So, I am taking us to the seaside for the latest instalment of positive environmental news.

1. This summer, Coquet Island's Roseate Terns population broke breeding records for the 6th year in a row! This year 150 pairs bred, up from 104 pairs in 2016 thanks to dedicated conservation efforts to save Britain's rarest nesting seabird. The island also saw a record breaking season for Common Terns and Kittiwakes.

2. It was another record breaking season at RSPB reserves across the Solent, with 25 little tern and 253 sandwich tern chicks successfully fledged. This is positive news for these birds, who are under increasing threat from human disturbance. The RSPB plan to create and restore habitat in this area to protect these precious breeding sites.

3. Scientists have completed the first map of the world's coral reefs, which features nearly 100,000 square metres of coral reefs around the globe, along with other information about about the ocean and seafloor. It is hoped that this map will help conservationists to save coral reefs, which are under serious threat from climate change, and inspire governments to act to protect them.

4. Numbers of sea turtle nests in Cape Verde have soared in the last 5 years, up to almost 200,000 in 2020 from 10,725 in 2015. Researchers believe this is thanks to improved conservation measures, including beach patrols and stronger laws against killing, trading, and eating turtles. Although this is great news, threats still remain including plastic pollution, entrapment in fishing nets, coastal development, and climate change. A turtle's sex is determined by temperature, so there is a skew toward females due to increasing temperatures affecting reproduction and genetic diversity.

Images: Frank McKenna and Erin Simmons

5. A seabird hotspot was discovered by a collaboration led by BirdLife International which used tracking and population data to map 21 seabird species. This hotspot is used by up to 5 million seabirds from over 56 colonies - the first discovery of seabird concentrations of this magnitude ever document on the high seas. Now, 15 governments and the EU are working towards designating it a Marine Protected Area - the first time one has been designated from tracking data in the high seas.





Life as a Little Tern Night Warden

October 07, 2021

I’m sat in a tent on the beach in East Norfolk, sitting comfortably but chilly in a fold out camping chair with some strong coffee, engrossed in a book. My watch says that 2 A.M. has just crept by, and the sounds of the night reach out to me in my reverie. Waves are crashing softly in the distance, and the tent flaps lazily in a gentle breeze. Sand hoppers - tiny crustaceans with springy tails - scale the walls, falling to the floor as they throw themselves at the solar powered light in a cyclical pilgrimage which will last until dawn. Wailing seals and the hoarse barking of a muntjac deer form an eerie chorus, backed by the low hum of distant ships. Then I hear it: 


The sound cuts through the night and my ears prick up - a little tern alarm call. 


The noise is unmistakable, and although I patrol the colony regularly, the terns are a reliable early warning system. I grab my torch and thermal imaging camera, unzip the tent door, and head out into the dark. As my eyes adjust, I fumble to turn on the camera, and through the grayscale display I can see the colony clearly. Directing it to the source of the commotion I can make out a large blob glowing white with body heat, which from experience could be one of two things - a fox, or a muntjac deer. Whilst both will eat little tern eggs, the foxes will go for chicks and adults, and it’s the latter I'm concerned about at this stage of the season. The colony is surrounded by an electrified fence and poultry netting for this very reason, but nearly all the chicks have now hatched, and they wander freely outside the perimeter. I set off in the direction of the blob, which is casually trotting along the boundary of the colony. The terns are becoming increasingly agitated as more birds join the fray, diving and shrieking at the unknown assailant. 

I trudge across the dunes that back the colony at a swift pace, brushing past dew-dropped marram grass and thistly sea-holly, which has recently erupted into a riot of silvery-blue flowers. The terns have now noticed me, and some direct their outrage at my head. I apologise profusely and assure them that I'm not the problem - if they would bother to listen - and work my way closer to the din. 

When I'm near enough for it to reach, I turn on the torch and shine it in the direction of the blob. If it was a fox, I would catch the glint of its eyes for a split second before it bolted away at full speed - but it isn't. Instead, a muntjac deer squints blearily at me through the beam of light, undeterred by my presence. A disturbance maybe, but no real threat at this point. Not wanting it to jump over the fence, I walk cautiously towards the deer and it sets off at a light jog, before slowing down to its original pace. In this way I escort it gradually to the edge of the colony, and it meanders off over the dunes and into the night. The terns have settled down and I turn back towards the tent, a lonely lamp under a cavernous night sky, the stars glimmering like precious minerals encrusted on its surface. A waning moon is rising behind wispy black clouds, casting an ethereal glow across the beach, and beyond the vast North Sea lies a barely perceptible hint of dawn.

        The full article about my summer of night wardening was originally published on the Life on the Edge blog and can be found HERE.

Positive Environmental News: 10 Recent Conservation Success Stories

September 11, 2021


I've been feeling more overwhelmed than optimistic recently, and with what seems like a relentlessly harrowing news cycle, it's not difficult to see why. So, it seemed like a good time to actively seek out some positive news. Not to distract from the bad - it's important to know what is going on so we can support where we can - but to remember that there are still good, helpful people all around the world working hard to create a better future for people and the planet. 

1. After disappearing centuries ago, wildcats are stalking the forests of the southern Netherlands once more. Their return is a result of rewilding efforts, where forest management favours nature over wood harvesting. 

2. In Bolivia, after 16 years of hard work, Asociación Armonía saw the 100th blue-throated macaw chick to fledge thanks to their nest box program. These 100 macaws make up around a fourth of the entire breeding population of this endangered bird, making this a huge victory!

3. Back in 1996, a breeding project was established in England to reintroduce ospreys, and this July, the team revealed the birth of the 200th chick! The project has helped the species to breed in both England and Wales, and is a success that shows us what is possible for nature's recovery.

"Success stories like this prove what's possible and help us to visualize how our countryside could look in the future - with wildlife in abundance, a rich tapestry of habitats, green corridors for species to move through landscapes, rivers and lakes free from pollution, and access to nature for all." - Rob Stoneman, director of landscape recovery for The Wildlife Trusts.


4. A piercing cry or croak could mean you are in the presence of the threatened kiwi. This is the sound that conservationists were so desperate to hear at the kiwi call count in New Zealand, and they were not left disappointed. 50% of sites that were silent in 2016 had kiwi calling in 2021, a testament to the community efforts to save this iconic species.

5. Beaver reintroductions have been all over the news for the past year or so, a cause for celebration as their return has improved water quality and boosted populations of fish, amphibians, and water voles. Now, the UK government is set to give them legal protection in England, which would come into force in 2022.

6. In Indonesia, maleo eggs are considered a delicacy, so are often dug up to be eaten or illegally sold, putting the species in danger of extinction. Local communities were determined to come to their rescue and began to protect nesting grounds from poaching and ensure that the birds could nest naturally and undisturbed, and now, maleo numbers are on the rise.

7. Earlier this month, the RSPB announced that cranes had bred in Oxfordshire for the first time in 500 years! Cranes had been attempting to breed at their Otmoor reserve for the past five years, and this year, efforts paid off and a fledgling has been sighted at the reserve.


9. On the west coast of South Africa, populations of African penguins are on the decline due to lack of food. So, BirdLife South Africa, CapeNature, and the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds have teamed up to save this beloved species. Although there is more work to be done to re-establish a penguin colony, there was cause for celebration in June when 30 juvenile penguins were released into the wild.

10. India was once home to an estimated 40 million vultures in the 1980s, a figure which dropped by almost 97% by the 1990s. This is mostly due to diclofenac fed to cattle, which poisons vultures when they feed on the carcasses. The Bombay Natural History Society are hard at work to save vultures and this year released the first captive-bred vultures into the wild with the hope of saving these keystone species.

"Optimism is not soft, it is gritty. Every day brings dark news, and no end of people tell us that the world is going to hell. To take the low road is to succumb. To take the high road is to remain constant in the face of uncertainty. That we may be confronted by barriers galore should not surprise anyone. That we may see worsening climate conditions in the short term should not surprise us. We have to elect to boldly persevere. With determination and utmost courage, we must conquer the hurdles in order to push forward." - The Future We Choose by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac 

Dogs and Wildlife – Building a ‘Pawsitive’ Relationship

August 30, 2021

The UK is a nation of dog lovers, with an estimated 12 million pups in UK homes and a large increase in dog ownership since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are also a nation of wildlife lovers, with the RSPB alone having over 1.1 million members, and many choosing to visit nature reserves and local wildlife sites in their free time. The two are by no means mutually exclusive, and dog ownership is a fantastic way to stay active, get outside, and appreciate the natural world. The RSPB encourages responsible dog walking on its nature reserves, and in the wider countryside, but what does this mean for dog owners, and why is it necessary around our wildlife? 

What is responsible dog walking?

Responsible dog walking means: 

  • Keeping your dogs close or preferably on a lead in sensitive areas. 
  • Sticking to designated paths to avoid disturbing wildlife or livestock.
  • Researching ahead of your trip to locate dog-friendly or restricted-access areas. 
  • Approaching wardens for a friendly chat if you have any questions or concerns. 
  • Reading and respecting signs in sensitive areas. 

Why is this necessary? 

Dog owners are often passionate advocates for the environment and possess a wealth of knowledge about the wildlife on their local patches where they regularly go for walks. Sadly though, there are times when dogs can cause major disturbances by chasing or attacking wildlife. 

Earlier this year, a ten-month old seal pup well known by locals and nicknamed ‘Freddie’, was basking along the Thames in west London when it was attacked by a dog off its lead. It was rescued by a South Essex wildlife hospital, but tragically its injuries were so severe it had to be humanely put down. The owner was heartbroken and regretted that the dog had not been on a lead but had not thought it was necessary at the time. 

If you are unsure as to how your dog will react around wildlife, especially if they are young or untrained, it is always better to be sure and put it on a lead. This kind of interaction is an extreme example, but this is not the only way in which dogs can negatively impact on wildlife. A far greater problem is that of disturbance

What is disturbance?

For much of our wildlife, humans and dogs are seen as predators, and so they will behave as such when we approach. This is a big problem for ground-nesting birds, who do not feel the safety of being up in a tree or bush. Birds that nest on the ground include our beach-nesting birds, such as little terns and ringed plovers, as well as curlews, lapwings, and oystercatchers. 

When predators, dogs, or people approach, these birds will leave their nests, trying to distance themselves from their eggs or chicks. They might try to lead the threat in another direction, or mob the intruder along with other nesting birds until it leaves the area. These disturbances mean that eggs and chicks are left unattended, making them vulnerable to predation, to thermal stress from being too cold or too hot, or to being crushed as they are very hard to spot. 

Constant disturbance can also use up the energy reserves of the adults, who are working hard to incubate their eggs and feed themselves - as well as their chicks after they hatch. Eventually if there is too much disturbance the birds abandon their nests, and although they may try again, if this is too late in the breeding season a second attempt may often be unsuccessful. Disturbance can also be an issue outside of the breeding season, as birds roosting along the shoreline in the winter are often resting and reserving their precious energy reserves. 

For beach-nesting birds who must share their space with regular beach users as well as the huge influx of people and their dogs on weekends and holidays, this can often be too much. Along with other threats such as predation alongside inundation from high tides and severe storms, increasing disturbance at nesting sites is pushing these species to their limits, with many shorebirds facing declines around the world. 

Dog owners can make a huge difference to the fate of these birds, as recent research by Professor Miguel Angel Gómez-Serrano from the University of Valencia on Kentish plovers suggests that lone, wandering dogs off their leads disturb birds from their nests almost 100% of the time, more than if they were accompanied by their owner and much more than by someone without a dog. This research also showed that sticking to paths and complying with fencing and buffer zones around colonies reduced the amount of disturbance for beach nesting birds. 

Leading the way forward 

There is plenty of room for both dog walkers and wildlife, and simple measures such as keeping dogs under control or on leads in certain areas can have a real impact on the fate of many of our bird species. This is only done in certain places or times of the year when it is necessary, and there will usually be signs or wardens on hand to let dog owners know. 

Space for Shorebirds is a project run by the Northumberland County Council, and one of its main objectives is to reduce the impact of human recreation on bird populations. Part of this involves fostering positive relationships with dog walkers and asks owners to get their dogs to take the Dog Ranger pledge. They share owners’ dogs on social media with the hashtag #dogranger and get them to spread the message about shorebird conservation. Another example is Bird Aware Essex Coast, which aims to raise awareness about coastal birds whilst preventing human disturbance. 

With fantastic schemes such as this, we can all work together to ensure a bright future for shorebirds where we can peacefully co-exist alongside each other. 

This article was originally featured on the Life on the Edge website for the RSPB.

How Birds Use Our Waters – Part 3: The High Seas

June 24, 2021

In this series, I have focused on birds as often overlooked inhabitants of the marine environment, heavily dependent on it as we are for food, the air we breathe, and the regulation of our climate. This time we complete our journey, finally arriving in the ‘High Seas’, the parts of our ocean beyond national jurisdiction which cover a staggering 50% of our planet’s surface area! Along the way we have discovered how a great wealth of bird species rely upon the UK’s coastlines and territorial waters all year round, including our overseas territories, and we have talked about how our country has a huge responsibility to protect globally important bird populations.

However, most of these birds are not just tied to one country but are international in their lifestyles. For example, almost the entire world population of Manx shearwaters (Puffinus puffinus) breed in the UK, but they only spend part of the year on our shores. From July to March they migrate and winter in the South Atlantic, mainly off the coasts of Brazil and Argentina. Even during the breeding season they can feed many hundreds of kilometres away if conditions are right, way beyond the national jurisdiction of any country. Whilst we can try to protect birds at their breeding grounds or within territorial waters, in order to ensure a stable future for all bird species this needs to happen in all of the areas which are important for them, including the High Seas.

What exactly are the ‘High Seas’?

The High Seas exist beyond national borders and are a global commons to be used collectively by all nations, although these international waters have been historically hard to govern. The United Nations Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS) tries to regulate specific activities within the High Seas, such as deep-sea mining and overexploitation of fish stocks, but only 1.2% is formally protected. Human rights abuses and illegal activity are rife, and where there is regulation or oversight it is in relation to resource extraction rather than ocean protection. Whilst there is no clear legal framework for the management and development of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the High Seas, what is clear is that these vast and deep waters support an incredible amount of biodiversity, much of which we know hardly anything about!

Birds without borders

At one time the movements of birds throughout the oceans were a complete mystery, with anecdotal evidence of individuals seen by ships or washed ashore providing only small clues as to their movements. The development of ringing schemes began to enlighten us, with birds caught and given unique metal bands which allowed us to identify individuals if they were ever recaptured. It is the staggering pace of development in tracking technology within recent years however which has now given us unparalleled insights into their exact movements at sea, although we have still only scratched the surface.

For example, we now know that Manx shearwaters have a hugely complex migration pattern with many stopovers, travelling south from the UK along the coastlines of western Europe and Africa, eventually crossing over to South America, where they spend the winter in the highly productive waters (see Part 2) off the Patagonian Shelf. After wintering here they then head North, following the coast up to North America before crossing over the Atlantic and back to the UK for the breeding season. Though there is some variation to this route, a Manx shearwater which lived to 50 years old could have travelled around 8 million kilometres in its lifetime, which is roughly ten trips to the moon and back! Another astounding migration is made by one of our rarest breeding birds, the red-necked phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus), with only a handful of breeding pairs in Shetland and the Western Isles. In 2012, geolocators revealed that one male bird had left Shetland in August and crossed the Atlantic Ocean to Canada, from where it moved down to Florida, crossed the Gulf of Mexico into the Pacific Ocean, and spent winter between the Galapagos Islands and South America until April, when it returned by the same route.

In a comprehensive recent study, an international team of researchers found that some of the more extensively seafaring species, the albatrosses and large petrels, spend almost 40% of their lives in the High Seas – birds such as the Tristan albatross (Diomedea dabbenena), 99% of which breed on Gough Island, a British overseas territory. Though tied to the colony around the central South Atlantic during the breeding season, non-breeders move extensively throughout the southern oceans, using areas off of South America and South Africa, searching for locations with high ocean productivity where food is abundant. Incredibly, increasing evidence suggests that these birds – which belong to the ‘procellariformes’ or ‘tubenoses’ – may be able to smell their way across the oceans, using odours to pinpoint foraging locations and find their colonies.

The importance of a High Seas Treaty

Unfortunately for birds living extensively in the High Seas, this is a large proportion of their lives where they are even more vulnerable to threats such as being caught in fishing gear or losing food resources to overfishing, threats that are easier to deal with in territorial waters. Many of these species are therefore some of the most threatened, and whilst bilateral agreements exist between certain countries to protect birds which occur in their territorial waters, such as between Japan and Australia, the High Seas are the most important at-sea area overall for albatrosses and large petrels. Species breeding in the UK and its overseas territories have some of the strongest links to the High Seas, as well as to countries such as Brazil and Argentina. What is clear is that coordinated cooperation between the UK and other nations to protect birds both within territorial and international waters is the best chance we have of halting and even reversing the path to extinction.

In August of this year, the UN General Assembly will meet for the Intergovernmental Conference on Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) to work on a treaty which will decide on the “…conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction…”. This is a once in a generation chance to modernise governance of the High Seas with a strong treaty which can help to reach the target of 30% protection of the oceans by 2030. Proper protection of important marine areas for birds can help to regulate or even exclude fisheries with damaging practices which are one of the main reasons for the declines in albatrosses and large petrels. This, coupled with other measures such as the eradication of invasive predators decimating breeding colonies will allow populations to become much more resilient in the face of climate change, the effects of which we are already beginning to feel. Whilst it is too much to go into here, there are a lot of great resources explaining the High Seas Treaty and the desired outcomes by the High Seas Alliance and Greenpeace, for example.

Through this series, I hope that I have managed to convey just how connected the fate of the birds which call our shores home are to the health and protection of the entire ocean, not just our own waters. Protecting the incredible abundance and variety of these species depends upon dealing with threats both where they breed and spend their time at sea, and I hope that future generations will be able to marvel at their incredible lifestyles as I do, as I hope now you will too.

Nature Nearby: Fighting for Equal Access to Nature

June 01, 2021

Fresh air, sea-salty wind, crunchy leaves under wellies, green trees as far as the eye can see, sunsets and rises, the whoosh of the ocean - experiences in nature are good for the soul, and it's backed up by evidence!

 The benefits we experience from spending time in nature are no secret, and I think many of us can appreciate them more than ever since our world got much, much smaller and quieter through the pandemic. Whether the reduced traffic meant we noticed the birds singing more, or extra time meant we spent longer exploring our local woodland, nature was there for us when we needed her.

Research shows that time in nature can reduce our blood pressure, heart rate, and stress levels, help us to sleep better, reduce anxiety, and boost our mood. It's also good for creativity and improving emotional and cognitive development.

The problem is, although everyone should have access to nature, it isn't currently the reality in the UK. Easy and safe access to high-quality green and blue spaces should be a right, not a privilege.

Research shows that those on low income are less likely to have access to public natural space, and children from poorer families are less likely to spend time in nature than other children. People from ethnic minorities are less likely to live within a 5-minute walk of a green space when compared to white people, and also less likely to have access to good walking routes.

This inequality continues when private green space is taken into account, as 12% of people in the UK don't have access to a garden, a figure that rises to 21% in London, with black people almost four times less likely to have access to a garden than white people.

Feeling unsafe in nature is also a barrier to access. Women and girls report feeling unsafe outdoors, with women who identify as disabled or LGBT more likely to feel this way. The risk of racist abuse or harassment also prevents people from ethnic minority backgrounds from spending time in nature. People with disabilities are often unable to access natural green and blue spaces, for example due to lack of accessible paths, parking, or toilets.

UK Youth for Nature are working hard to turn this around by engaging with the UK governments and asking them to act now to ensure that everyone has access to safe, high-quality green and blue spaces. The more voices we have, the more likely they will have to listen and take action! So how can you help?

  1. Sign the petition here to the governments of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.
  2. Write to your local politician. I know this can feel a bit daunting, but there is lots of information here to make it quick and easy to do!
  3. Shout about the lack of access to nature! And share the campaign with friends and family.

How Birds Use Our Waters – Part 2: UK Territorial Waters

May 28, 2021


In my last post in this series, I looked at how our coasts are crucial in supporting a huge diversity of bird species all year round. This time, I travel further out into our territorial waters, to see how the fate of the seabirds which call our shores home is inextricably tied to the health of our oceans.

What do we mean by territorial waters?

The term ‘territorial waters’ is often used as a broad term to encompass the seas which are under the jurisdiction of a government. This includes the territorial sea, which extends 12 nautical miles from the coastline, and the Exclusive Economic Zone, which extends a further 200 nautical miles out – unless there is another country within these limits. In the UK’s territorial waters, the government has control over all economic activity including fishing, mining, and energy production. It also has a responsibility to protect the incredibly diverse wildlife which calls these waters home, to make sure that we are surrounded by thriving, healthy seas.

It might surprise you to find out that the UK has the fifth largest Exclusive Economic Zone in the world, as it is responsible for the waters surrounding its overseas territories as well. This includes such far flung places as South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, Saint Helena, Gough Island, Tristan de Cunha, and the Pitcairn Islands. These overseas territories hugely increase the UK’s influence over the oceans, as well as the wildlife it is responsible for – a responsibility which is shared with the local governments of these territories. This also vastly increases the number of seabird species which occur in waters under UK jurisdiction, giving us an even greater role on the world stage in protecting them. For example, these territories are home to a quarter of the world’s penguins and a third of the world’s breeding albatrosses!

Why are our territorial waters important for seabirds?

Most seabirds are hugely dependent on the ocean as a source of food and are drawn to ‘hotspots’ of high productivity where prey is more abundant. These ‘hotspots’ are especially important during the breeding season, as seabirds need to have plenty of nutritious food within close range of their colonies so that they can provide enough for their hungry, growing chicks. The distances and locations they travel to find food will vary depending on the species, and even between individual birds, but seabirds must be able to balance feeding their chicks with their own energy needs. If they cannot, the adults must prioritise their own survival over that of their chicks, opting to try again the next year. Therefore seabirds thrive and successfully raise chicks in colonies where they can access abundant, reliable sources of food that they can travel to without exhausting themselves completely. The seas around the UK are highly productive, and this combined with the wide range of suitable habitats along our coastlines support the huge numbers and diversity of seabirds which live here. This is also true for UK overseas territories, with places like Gough Island supporting large colonies of breeding seabirds, including endangered sooty albatrosses, Atlantic yellow-nosed albatrosses, and the critically endangered Tristan albatross.

The availability of prey can be influenced by numerous factors which often interact in complex ways, such as ocean temperature, ocean currents, the topography of the seabed, and the time of year. Seabirds must time their breeding efforts for when conditions are just right and there will be plenty of food to raise their young. This means that their populations are highly sensitive to any changes in the marine environment that might affect how much prey there is, where it will be, and when it is around.

Our territorial waters are not just important during the breeding season, with some seabirds staying through the winter months whilst others disperse out into the open ocean or migrate to other shores. The birds that stay need to be able to find food to sustain them through the cold winter months, and whilst they are not tied to feeding their chicks at the colonies, stormy weather can rapidly deplete energy supplies and affect their ability to feed, with exhausted birds dying from hunger and exposure. These seabird ‘wrecks’ can be particularly bad in some years, such as in 2014, when thousands of dead birds washed up on our shores. Bad weather in winter can also have knock on effects in the breeding season, with storms in late winter and early spring influencing the ability of seabirds to get in prime condition for courtship and the demands of raising young.

Threats in our waters

What is clear is that seabirds require healthy, biodiverse, and productive oceans in order to give them the best chance of breeding and surviving all year round, and we therefore have a responsibility to ensure that this is the case where we have jurisdiction. However, some of our internationally important populations of seabirds, such as northern fulmars, European shags, Arctic skuas, and black-legged kittiwakes are declining alarmingly.For other species the picture is mixed, with Atlantic puffins doing poorly in places like Shetland and the Isle of May in the Northeast but faring better at Skomer and Skokholm Islands in Wales. Whilst the causes are often unclear as to exactly why these trends are occurring, with complex interactions between multiple stressors, we can identify some key factors in these declines:

Climate change

Warming oceans are affecting the availability of some prey species, such as sandeels, which are heavily relied on by birds like puffins and kittiwakes during the breeding season as a source of plentiful, nutritious food. Climate change is also increasing the incidence of severe storms, resulting in more seabird ‘wrecks’. The European shag is suffering this fate, being a coastal species which does not venture far from its colonies and having plumage which is not as waterproof as other seabirds it finds it difficult to escape bad weather and is therefore more susceptible to death by exposure. Climate change is going to be difficult to deal with, but the best way to ensure resilience against it is to deal effectively with other threats, such as overfishing, which are easier to deal with.


Commercial fisheries, especially those which target specific species, can be devastating for seabird populations which rely on these species. For example, in Scotland, commercial sandeel fisheries were found to be creating food shortages for kittiwakes by depriving them of this crucial resource during the breeding season. In this case, a seasonal ban was introduced on fishing during this time, demonstrating that we can act accordingly when we understand the causes of declines, although food shortages are still an issue as a result of climate change. Overfishing is also thought to have contributed to the decline of naturally nesting populations of Herring gulls, combined with changes in fisheries practices such as a reduction in discards, and this species has started to find more reliable food sources in our towns and cities. Over exploitation of fisheries is also happening in overseas territories, with populations of sooty terns on Ascension Island plummeting as a result.

We can deal with overfishing and other damaging economic activities by introducing bans and limits at certain times or year or by creating Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s). However, whilst nearly a quarter of the territorial waters around the UK are designated MPA’s, this is often in name only, with harmful activities such as fishing, bottom trawling and dredging still allowed. We therefore need immediate strengthening of these protections.

Fisheries bycatch

Like many other marine animals, such as dolphins, sharks, and turtles, seabirds can end up being killed unintentionally by fishing vessels. Birds such as albatrosses are particularly vulnerable, getting caught on the baited hooks of longline fishing vessels and being dragged underwater, for example. Whilst progress is being made in reducing bycatch by developing new technologies, increased monitoring, and education, dealing with this problem requires international cooperation as these species often roam large distances through the territorial waters of multiple nations.

Invasive species

Though not strictly a marine problem, invasive alien species such as mice, rats, and cats are a massive problem for seabirds, with chicks and incubating birds often helpless against predation, and they can decimate populations on some islands. Removal of invasive species will be one of the most effective ways to prevent seabird declines across many colonies, with restoration projects such as the one currently being undertaken on Gough Island hopefully improving their prospects. On Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel, rats were eradicated in 2006, and since then the seabird population has more than trebled, proving the effectiveness of dealing with this threat.


Oil pollution can ruin the waterproofing of seabirds feathers, affecting feeding and thermoregulation and eventually resulting in death by exposure. Plastic pollution is a growing menace, within many species consuming large amounts of plastic and feeding it to their chicks. To them, as well as looking like food, plastic can also even smell like food, picking up a compound called dimethyl sulphide which is usually given off by some microorganisms when they break down, such as when they are being eaten. The seabirds can use this smell to detect prey which are eating the microorganisms, an amazing instinct which is unfortunately resulting in many deaths when birds eat the wrong things. Whilst plastic pollution is not a major cause of population declines at the moment, more and more plastic enters the oceans every day and production keeps increasing, and so it is vital to curb this threat now.

Next time, join me for the final part of this series, where I will be looking at the ‘High Seas’, the oceans beyond national jurisdiction which cover around 50% of the planet! Here there is often a crucial lack of protection for seabirds, with some species spending a large proportion of their time in these waters. The threats I touched on in this article are often much worse in the high seas, where there is usually no oversight, monitoring, or legal protection. I’ll be looking in depth at this overlooked part of our oceans and show that in order to halt drastic seabird declines, the UK needs to be a key player in the upcoming negotiations for a ‘High Seas Treaty’, which will ensure a legally binding commitment to conservation and sustainable development in areas beyond national jurisdiction.
Nature's Good News