Bass Island enjoys special EU protections which have helped the gannet population to thrive, but the water around it does not - that may be about to change
Tom bawden Environment Editor
Tuesday 29 September 2015 18:32 BST
On a giant lump of volcanic rock off the east coast of Scotland a dozen fledgling gannets prepare to walk the plank.
They are trapped behind the ruined castle battlements on Bass Rock - home to 150,000 gannets – and find themselves in a life-or-death situation.
They won’t be able to survive for much more than a day without food and the clock is ticking for them to fly over the battlement to the sea 200ft below and go fishing.
But they have never flown and even under less pressing conditions one in twenty fledglings die from their first flight.
Conservationists have helped them out by providing a plank laid from the foot of the battlement to the top. “Walking up the gangplank seems somehow appropriate,” says John Hunt, of the Scottish Sea Bird centre..
But while these hardy gannets will hopefully thrive, other Scottish seabirds will need more than a plank of wood if they are to have a future.
Scotland’s sea bird population has halved since 2000, with much greater declines among some species. Over the past two decades, Arctic terns have declined by 72 per cent, Arctic Skuas are down by 80 per cent and kittiwakes by 68 per cent. Puffins, razor bills and guillemots are also under pressure.
Approaching the island – the world’s largest gannet population - by boat, however, Scotland’s seabird population seems anything but precarious.
There are gannets everywhere. Male birds swoop past with seaweed in their mouths, taking it back to refurbish the nest, while others dive for fish.
And on the gannet-covered island tens of thousands of birds engage in a range of activities in a seemingly endless wave of motion.
Some are beak-fencing – mates playfully swordfighting as a bonding activity – while others are performing a territorial display involving bowing, dipping their heads and spreading their wings out backwards.