Please help us to secure the long-term study of Guillemots on Skomer Island
In 2018 I am looking to raise £100,000 to secure the Skomer guillemot monitoring for a period of 10 to 15 years. Thank you for any help you can give towards this ambitious target.
I have spent the last 45 years monitoring guillemots on Skomer Island. The natural world is changing, largely as a result of global warming. The only way we are going to mitigate the effects of climate change is by identifying the effects. This is possible only through long-term studies that started before such effects were apparent. If we are to have any hope of conserving species, we need to understand them, and we need to understand the way they are affected by environmental change.
Guillemots are one of our most abundant seabirds, and they are excellent indicators of the quality of the marine environment. For example, they are desperately vulnerable to oil pollution, and hundreds of thousands have died in oil spills. Partly as a consequence of such disasters, guillemot numbers have fluctuated widely over the past 80 years.
The population on Skomer is one of just a handful of UK guillemot populations that is doing reasonably well at present. But we shouldn’t be complacent. My long-term study monitors both the survival and breeding success of guillemots, offering a unique opportunity to understand the consequences of any environmental change – such as climate change and over-fishing.
In 2014, following my funding being cut, I ran a hugely successful crowd funding campaign. I raised £14,000 from over 600 individual donations to my Just Giving page in just a few weeks – showing overwhelming generosity and demonstrating support for the value of long term scientific monitoring. Further generous donations took my 2014 fundraising total to £50,000 which has funded the monitoring to date.
Continuity of funding is a problem for all ecologists undertaking long-term studies. I now hope to raise £100,000, to be put in a restricted expendable endowment, with income and capital from this fund used for the annual monitoring of guillemot populations at Skomer island, over a period of up to 15 years.
Thank you for your support.
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Type ‘Tim Birkhead’ or ‘Guillemots’ into the other box.
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Watch our videos
The Guillemots of Skomer Island: a look at a long-term population study
I have been overwhelmed by both the financial generosity shown and all the messages of support I have received. Thank you to everyone who has donated to my guillemot monitoring research on Skomer.
In the 1930s there were around 100,000 pairs of guillemots on Skomer's cliffs. But by the 1970s, when my study began, this had fallen to just 2,000 pairs. Since then the numbers have increased and there are now 25,000 pairs. The population on Skomer is one of just a handful of UK guillemot populations that is doing reasonably well at present.
But there's no room for complacency. The massive 'seabird wreck' of February 2014, the result of persistent storms, killed at least 40,000 seabirds, many of which were guillemots and many of which were from Skomer. Our long-term study, in which we have monitored the survival and breeding success of Skomer's guillemots, puts us in a unique position to understand the consequences of this wreck.
Ironically, the wreck coincided with the decision to terminate funding for the study. The guillemot study started in 1972 and for the last 20 years was funded by the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW). In 2013 CCW became part of Natural Resources Wales, and the funding for the guillemot study stopped.
Read more about the study here:
Nature magazine article
As the quality of our seas continue to decline as a result of climate change and over-fishing, it seems crazy to terminate a study that could help preserve one of our most important seabird species. This project needs £12,000 a year to continue. With your help we can carry on collecting the information that is so essential for understanding the health of this sea bird population, the state of the marine environment, and for recognising the effects of climate change and oil pollution on the ecosystem.
September 2016 update
Having raised £14,000 via Just Giving in 2014, in 2015 we were able to monitor the number of guillemots that survived over 2014-2015 winter, and make a detailed assessment of the consequences of the ‘Wreck’ caused by the severe storms in January and February 2014. Normally, we expect around 95% of breeding guillemots to survive from one year to the next (a 95% survival rate is equivalent to a breeding life span of around 20 years). However, the 2014 data indicated a substantially lower survival rate.
2016 has been a fairly ‘normal’ year for Skomer’s guillemots, although, to be honest, I’m no longer sure what ‘normal’ means. Here, however, it means that breeding occurred at a normal time and breeding success was good with around 80% of pairs successfully rearing a chick to fledging. We also looked at the size of guillemot eggs, and compared this with information we had collected in the last two years. As we had suspected, in 2014 the extensive storms resulted in guillemots producing relatively small eggs. My previous studies have shown that eggs tend to be small when food is scarce or the birds in poor condition – both of which were probably true in 2014. It is reassuring that 2016 seems to have be fairly normal.
We made an intensive study of chick-feeding rates, as well as the more usual diet study, because the last two years had suggested that there had been a decline in the rate at which chicks were fed as well as a change in diet. However, we found no evidence of any reduction in chick-feeding rates, which was a relief. The survival of guillemots between 2015 and 2016 appeared to be normal, which is good news after the major mortality caused by the 2014 storms. We estimate survival rates from the re-sightings of birds we have ringed, and each year we ring a new cohort of around 300 chicks and a smaller number of adult guillemots, to replace those that have died.
November 2017 update
Using the funds raised via Just Giving in 2014, we have been able to continue monitoring the survival rate of guillemots on Skomer. Preliminary analyses indicated that guillemot survival was markedly lower as a result of the ‘Wreck’ caused by the severe storms in January and February 2014. We are now embarking on a detailed assessment of the consequences of the ‘Wreck’. Normally, we expect around 95% of breeding guillemots to survive from one year to the next (a 95% survival rate is equivalent to a breeding life span of around 20 years) — survival is the key the guillemot’s lifestyle: slow and long.
Both 2016 and 2017 seemed to be fairly ‘normal’ years for Skomer’s guillemots in terms of timing of breeding and breeding success. However, it is difficult to know what ‘normal’ means any more because climate change seems to be generating more and more extreme weather. Warmer weather seems to be associated with earlier breeding, and stormier weather, as we have seen with the ‘Wreck’, reduces guillemot survival.
In both 2016 and 2017 breeding success was good with around 80% of pairs successfully rearing a chick to fledging. We have also looked at the size of guillemot eggs as an indicator of the quality of the marine environment. My previous studies have shown that eggs tend to be smaller when food is scarce or the birds in poor condition – both of which were probably true in 2014 since the eggs in that year were relatively small. It is reassuring that in both 2016 and 2107 egg size has returned to normal. We have also continued to monitor the food that adult guillemots bring to their chicks. Throughout much of the past 40 years, the chicks’ diet has been mainly sprats — fish rich in oil and calories. In the last few years we have seen a decrease in the number of sprats and an increase in the number cod-like fish fed to guillemot chicks. Cod-like fish (such as whiting and haddock) are poorer quality (fewer calories), so we are slightly concerned about this. The survival of guillemots between 2015 and 2016 and between 2016 and 2015 appears to have been normal, which is good news after the major mortality caused by the 2014 storms. The full analysis of the survival data however, is currently in progress. We estimate guillemot survival from the re-sightings of birds we have ringed, and each year we ring a new cohort of around 300 chicks and around 50 adult guillemots, to replace those that have died.
The funds raised initially by Just Giving have allowed us to continue monitoring guillemots on Skomer until the 2018 season, but the beyond that the future of the study is uncertain. It is for this reason that we need your continued support.
Thank you for supporting this very special long-term study of guillemots on Skomer Island.
If you have any questions about the study please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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