Concerns raised over seabird disturbance at St Abb’s Head

SBBN-10-07-14 Impact of dive boats and diving tourism on seabird colonies at St Abbs
SBBN-10-07-14 Impact of dive boats and diving tourism on seabird colonies at St Abbs

Concerns have been raised about the impact of diving tourism on the seabird populations of the St Abb’s Head Nature Reserve

Graham White, a retired environmentalist who lives in nearby Coldstream, was birdwatching at St Abb’s Head earlier this month and was horrified by what he saw.

He said: “It was a dive boat ‘derby’ of 40-foot, 1,000-horsepower vessels making high-speed runs across the mouths of the nesting fiords and dropping off divers deep within the fiords. Over a dozen boats of various sizes were roaring about, ploughing through rafts of guillemots.”

He went on to say that this year’s nesting season, especially for kittiwakes, had been a disaster.

The noise of the engines so close to the birds cliff nests was of such concern that White returned to film the boats. However, aware of his presence, the diving guides kept their speed at what he described as “a walking pace”.

White raised his concerns with the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), the government wildlife agency, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), and the RSPB. As a result, NTS has convened a meeting on June 13 with dive boat operators, and there are plans to draw up a voluntary code of practice.

But White questions whether it will be enough. “The only powers which NTS holds at St Abb’s now are powers of persuasion and education,” he said. “When it comes to being an effective environmental watchdog, a guardian of wildlife, it seems this dog is toothless. There has to be a legal agreement, not just voluntary.”

As well as being a national nature reserve, St Abb’s Head has three other official designations meant to ensure its wildlife is protected under law. It is a special protection area for birds, a special area of conservation and a site of special scientific interest.

The NTS said it was aware that the number of dive boats had increased in recent years.

Conservation director, Terry Levinthal, said: “We recently convened a meeting of local skippers to highlight our concerns. This was positive and it was agreed that we would work with them and SNH to put together and promote a voluntary code of practice for boats operating in the area.”