‘Biosecurity for Scotland’s Seabird Islands’ (Biosecurity for Scotland in short) continues the work started by Biosecurity for LIFE in Scotland, bringing together organisations, island communities and businesses to safeguard Scotland’s internationally important seabird islands from invasive non-native mammalian predators. This work is funded to March 2026 by the Nature Restoration Fund and is led by RSPB Scotland, the National Trust for Scotland and NatureScot.
Biosecurity for Scotland is working with island managers, communities and others responsible for biosecurity checks and measures across 38 unique islands or islands groups that are internationally important for breeding seabirds. Over 2 million seabirds breed on these islands, including the entire UK population of Leach’s Storm Petrel.
Biosecurity for Scotland is also developing sustainable measures and systems to reduce biosecurity risks along incursion pathways – ways and means by which invasive predators can get to an island –anyone travelling to a seabird island has a role here in undertaking basic checks before setting off.
Scotland’s seabird populations are internationally important, and they are in trouble. The most recent assessment shows a 49% decline between 1986 and 2019 in 11 seabird species that are monitored as indicators of the health of our seas.
Seabirds face multiple threats at sea, including from climate change, fisheries and offshore renewable infrastructure – but on land, the greatest threat they face is from invasive non-native mammalian predators. To stand a chance in a changing world, seabirds require their breeding grounds to be free of invasive predators.
Scotland has a great responsibility for the future of seabirds – over a third of the global population of Manx Shearwater are found on Scottish islands alone. Nearly all of the UK’s Northern Fulmar (97%), Northern Gannet (83%) and Atlantic Puffin (85%) breed here, in internationally significant numbers. And we know that some species have disappeared from seabird islands following the introduction of invasive predators, usually rats.
At Biosecurity for LIFE we are focused primarily on 42 island special protection areas (SPAs) in the UK that are designated for breeding seabirds.
As indicated on the map, these islands are spread around the coastline of the UK including parts of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Scotland’s seabird islands are now better protected against the threat of invasive non-native mammalian predators thanks to the Biosecurity for LIFE project, but we cannot be complacent. During 2016-2023, 31 biosecurity incidents affecting protected seabird islands were reported to us, ranging from shipwrecks and cargo spills (which pose a biosecurity risk) to invasive predators found on an island or jumping ashore from vessels.
Biosecurity measures need to be maintained indefinitely and everybody visiting (or operating in the vicinity of) a protected seabird island has a role to play in keeping the wildlife on these islands safe. Biosecurity for LIFE reached out to over 30 million people but there is still work to be done to embed biosecurity awareness and help people to take small but crucial steps to protect our amazing seabirds. Adhering to biosecurity measures is one of the easiest ways people can help make a difference.
Biosecurity for LIFE trained the first conservation detection dog team to support biosecurity on the UK’s seabird islands by searching for rats. We are excited to have biosecurity dog teams working in Scotland, alongside their colleagues in Wales and England, to help keep our seabird islands rat-free. Dogs have 300 million scent receptors compared to our 6 million so are far better at detecting rodents than we are. Our traditional ‘passive’ surveillance techniques require the invasive predator to encounter and interact with the detection tools we use, whereas using trained dogs, an ‘active detection tool’, allows us to cover more ground and have more confidence in our results – a real game changer!