Scotish Seabird Centre Creates its Own “People’s Big Five”.

Published in Edinburgh Reporter, 4 April 2013, by Sam Khan-McIntyre
puffin 1

The absence of iconic and much loved puffins from the nation’s Big Five initiative has prompted the Scottish Seabird Centre to create its own unofficial People’s Big Five list, and they are encouraging the public to vote for their favourite Scottish Wildlife species.

This new list aims to create a more representative version of Scotland’s iconic species, as the Centre, in North Berwick,  feels the Big Five List, created by Scottish Natural Heritage, and VisitScotland, is not representative of the country’s wildlife.

Their list naturally includes seabirds, which were not included, as well as grey seals, whales and dolphins.  The centre wants to redress the balance, although it supports the Big Five initiative, and its aims of  spreading awareness of our wildlife.

Tom Brock OBE, CEO of the Scottish Seabird Centre, said:- “It is absurd that the Big Five should omit our iconic seabirds, notably the much-loved puffin. Scotland’s seabirds are of international importance: Scotland is home to almost half (45%) of all of Europe’s seabirds and over 60% of the world’s North Atlantic gannets nests in Scotland. To exclude all seabirds from the Big Five defies logic.

“Many visitors to Scotland, both from the UK and overseas, are drawn here to experience the beauty and wonder of our amazing wildlife. For many people an encounter with a puffin or dolphin can be nothing short of a deeply emotional experience, leaving impressions that last a lifetime. The puffin is one of Scotland’s most iconic birds and engenders a level of public affection that is unrivalled. Puffins are of major environmental and economic importance and can be seen all around Scotland’s coasts. They are one of the “stars” of Scotland’s natural world and our increasingly important wildlife tourism industry which raises awareness of Scotland’s wildlife and helps to support rural communities.”

Visitors, staff and volunteers at the award-winning Centre in North Berwick are watching eagerly on their live interactive cameras for the imminent landing of the first puffin of 2013 on the Firth of Forth islands. This key sighting is always a significant milestone in the annual wildlife calendar, but this year has added significance due to the distressing “puffin wreck” of recent days. The discovery of hundreds of seabird corpses including puffins, guillemots and razorbills along the entire length of the east coast has been extremely upsetting and is of a major concern. While the reasons are not entirely clear, the extreme weather conditions are undoubtedly a contributing factor. Many seabirds including puffins have been suffering a decline in numbers in many parts of Scotland in recent years. It is thought that food shortages as a result of climate change, a legacy of overfishing and changing sea temperatures could all be  contributing factors.

Brock added:- “The gaping absence of the puffin from the Big Five is deeply regrettable and extremely disappointing. This is a missed opportunity to highlight a species that is loved by many but is now in trouble. The Big Five announcement should have been used to recognise the importance of this wonderful bird and to raise public awareness that it needs our help to survive. I am truly appalled that this iconic seabird has been entirely missed off the “official” list.

“So we’re out to redress the balance. We now encourage all members of the public to tell us what species they believe ought to feature in our “People’s Big Five” – our own unofficial list, a Big Five that truly represents Scotland’s most iconic and best-loved animals.”

The public are encouraged to vote for their favourite species by emailing the Scottish Seabird Centre at big5@seabird.org, stating which animal they think should represent Scotland’s wildlife, and captures its essence. Votes can also be cast in person at the Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick.

The public are also encouraged to debate the “People’s Big Five” on the centre’s Facebook page at  www.facebook.com/scottishseabirdcentre and on Twitter @SeabirdCentre using the hashtag #peoplesbigfive.

Voters have until 31 May 2013 to cast their votes. The “People’s Big Five” will be announced at the Start of June. The overall winner of the votes will be announced on 21 June 2013 at a special event at the Seabird Centre.

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