South Scotland

St Abb's Head reserve records first gannet chick

Gannet chick Image copyright Zander Salmond

The first gannet chick ever to be recorded has hatched at the St Abb's Head reserve in the Borders.

The National Trust for Scotland said that up until 2016 the birds had been seen on the cliffs on just three occasions in the last 30 years.

Last year was the first time on record they had attempted to nest.

This year they came in larger numbers and the sighting of a first egg in June has been followed by the chick spotted by assistant ranger Zander Salmond.

"I feel very privileged to be the first person ever to see a gannet chick at St Abb's Head," he said.

However, he admitted he first had to call a colleague to verify the sighting.

"Gannet chicks are naked when they hatch, so the adults sit pretty tight on them to keep them warm until they develop insulating down," he explained.

"So it was a nail biting hour and a half, during which we were only getting the briefest of glimpses of something in the nest, before my colleague got a good enough view to confirm that it was definitely a chick and I wasn't just seeing things!"

Image copyright John Sinclair
Image caption NTS has monitored seabird levels on the cliffs for the last 30 years

Senior Ranger Liza Cole said that with the world's largest colony of breeding gannets just a few miles up the coast at Bass Rock she had suspected it was "only a matter of time" before they moved in.

"Gannets are stunning birds to behold and there has been a palpable air of excitement surrounding their presence here at St Abb's Head over the last couple of years," she said.

"However, I do have slightly mixed feelings about them."

She said that seabird numbers overall had declined at the reserve - reflecting UK-wide figures - with the only species to maintain their levels being guillemots and razorbills.

Image copyright Jack Laws
Image caption Only this year and last year have gannets been recorded attempting to nest in the area

"The stack on which the gannets have chosen to breed is a favoured breeding area for guillemots, so I fear that as gannet numbers increase, as they are bound to, the guillemots will be pushed out," she said.

"This feels very much like a pivotal moment for the seabird colony at St Abb's Head, and only time will tell what will happen in the years to come."

Richard Luxmoore, senior nature conservation advisor, described it as the "beginning of a new chapter" in 30 years of monitoring seabird numbers on the reserve.

"Most seabird species are declining in number but gannets are bucking that trend, with numbers increasing by over 30% in the last 10 years or so," he said.

"Declines in other species of seabirds have been linked to lack of food brought about by overfishing of sandeels and climate change.

"It is thought that because gannets can travel great distances, up to 500km, from their nest site to forage and because they are adaptable in what they eat they rarely encounter food shortages."

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