MANY seabirds are struggling in the face of food shortages and storms brought on by climate change, conservationists have warned.

The warning comes as the latest report on breeding seabirds from the Joint Nature Conservation Committee reveals significant declines in species such as Arctic skuas, kittiwakes and northern fulmars in the past two decades.

Numbers of black-legged kittiwakes are estimated to have halved since 2000, when the last major census of breeding seabirds took place. Arctic skuas are down 70% and northern fulmars are down 36%.

Other species in decline, according to the annual seabird monitoring programme, include little terns, down a quarter since 2000; European shags, down 24%; and Arctic terns, down 13%.

Some species have seen their numbers boosted significantly since 2000, but the RSPB’s marine principal policy officer Gareth Cunningham said they were bucking a overall downward trend.

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Mediterranean gulls, whose numbers have soared in the UK in the past two decades, are benefiting from rising temperatures which have made this country more suitable for them. Roseate terns, which have seen numbers double in that time, may have benefited from conservation work to restore its nesting habitat, Cunningham said.

“For the majority of other species, it’s a trend of decline,” he said. “Where you are in the country depends how steep the decline is.

“In north Scotland and the North Sea we’re seeing the largest declines, primarily through the impacts of climate change, both on food availability and increased storms.”

Climate change is contributing to declines in species such as Arctic skuas and northern fulmars, which are affected by the availability of their food source of sand eels that are being hit by warming seas and fishing.

Although the report does not provide a figure for the fortunes of puffins since 2000, Cunningham said the species was also being affected in this way, with a crash in Scottish populations primarily due to the impact on its food sources. Kittiwakes are also struggling in the face of climate change – and in particular the increase in storms that it brings.

“Unlike most seabirds, they are unable to dive to great depths and if the sea is churned up by storms, it’s very difficult to access the fish,” Cunningham said.