A conservationist has given up his dream job in Seychelles to help in St Kilda’s first bird population headcount in two decades.
The internationally-important seabird population on the UNESCO World Heritage site is a far cry from the tropical climes Craig Nisbet has become accustomed to on Desroches Island. But the chance to take on the role of National Trust for Scotland (NTS) seabird and marine ranger proved too inviting.
However, Craig is no stranger to St Kilda; this year will be the third time in the seasonal summer role.
Despite working in various locations overseas, Craig remains firmly smitten with St Kilda due to its dramatic awe-inspiring landscape and geology.
It is currently thought the St Kilda archipelago is home to a one million-strong seabird population.
However, current data is 20 years out of date, and Craig will lead conservationists and volunteers will strive to compile a more accurate estimate of cliff-breeding species like the fulmar. These relatives of the albatross numbered 67,000 in the last survey.
As well as fulmars, St Kilda boasts the largest UK puffin population and most of the country’s Leach’s petrels.
However, the main focus of the latest survey will be razorbills, guillemots, fulmars, kittiwakes and other species with small populations. This involves dividing St Kilda into sections and counting the nests.
Conducting a seabird survey of St Kilda is challenging due to the rugged terrain and sea cliffs. But this new survey will be assisted by the use of drones. It is hoped the surveying work will shed light on how seabird populations are bearing up to pressure from habitat loss, climate change, and the recent avian influenza outbreak.
The disease is believed to have been responsible for many thousands of bird deaths, but the scale of the impact has yet to be quantified.
It is feared that St Kilda’s great skua population has been most badly affected as their global numbers are thought to have declined by up to 75%.
Last year, only 66 great Skua territories were recorded, compared to 183 in 2019.
Image credit: Craig Nisbet (via Facebook) on a survey in a remote part of New Zealand.