Biggest in the World

Living as I do in the wonderful seaside environment of North Berwick, you can get banal about its wonders—not least the Bass Rock. Empty as it is of its gannet residents just now, the sheer wonder of their teeming presence most of the year can be taken for granted.

But now comes a report that it has surpassed St Kilda as the world’s biggest colony of Northern gannets at some 75,000 nest sites on a rock barely 1 mile in circumference. Reproduced below are some details of the report published on our local Scottish Seabird Centre’s website. Of particular interest is the increase in the heart of the existing colony where you would have sworn there was no room for more nests.

The Scottish Seabird Centre, East Lothian, announces that a count of Northern gannets undertaken by Stuart Murray, in conjunction with the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), has shown that the Bass Rock is now the world’s largest colony.

The Bass Rock is located 4km (2.5m) from North Berwick and the Northern gannet’s scientific name (Morus bassanus) is derived from the Bass itself.

In 2014, independent counts made by Stuart Murray and Mike Harris (CEH), with advice from Maggie Sheddan, the senior Bass Rock guide for the Scottish Seabird Centre, found 75,000 apparently occupied sites (AOS). This is an increase of 24% since a similar count made by Stuart Murray in 2009.

Stuart Murray said: “The colony was photographed from the air on 23 June 2014. Conditions were excellent, with no wind and a high cover of thick cloud which obscured the sun, reducing the glare from all these startlingly white birds. The images were later viewed on computer screens for counting and each occupied site was blocked-out as it was counted.

“Interestingly, the most dramatic increase is between the old lighthouse keepers’ garden and the summit of the Rock. We counted around 10,000 sites in this area compared with 6,500 five years ago.”

Sarah Wanless, from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, said: “Our long-term research on North Sea seabirds aims to understand how species such as the gannet will cope with the rapid pace of environmental change. This is our fifth census of the Bass Rock in the last 30 years.

“It is particularly heartening to see them doing so well when so many other seabirds in Scotland appear to be in trouble, however, the Bass Rock is a small island and the gannets have now filled most of the available nesting habitat. The colony now has only very limited capacity for further increase.”

Tom Brock OBE, Chief Executive of the Scottish Seabird Centre, said: “Scotland is of international importance for seabirds and is home to over 60% of the world’s population of Northern gannets. The figure of 75,000 sites is phenomenal especially when many apparently occupied sites will represent a breeding pair and their chick. I would expect that the total gannet population on the Bass in the breeding season will be well in excess of 150,000 birds. Every year the Bass Rock turns brilliant white with the sheer number of gannets crammed onto the Rock and not, as some people think, with their guano.

“While this is fantastic news we cannot ignore the fact that although gannet colonies are currently thriving other seabird species are not. This is a very complex issue however we know that gannets are able to travel further to forage for food – even as far as the coast of Norway.

“Many seabirds are now under threat and as a conservation and education charity we will continue to work in partnership with other organisations across Scotland to undertake further research and appropriate action, where we can, to conserve Scotland’s amazing wildlife for future generations.”

About davidsberry

Local councillor, tour guide and database designer. Keen on wildlife, history, boats and music. Stood for the Scottish Parliament 2011; lost by 151 votes.
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