A rising tide of plastic waste is threatening sea-birds like never before

Posted: 15 March, 2024 | Category: Current News Category: Features & Analysis Category: Uncategorized

The endangered fulmar, a victim  of our  stupidity, greed and ignorance about wildlife



By Trevor Grundy

Member of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)


If William Shakespeare was alive today, he’d have to change part of John of Gaunt’s famous speech about England being set in a silver sea in Richard 11.

That would have to come out and be replaced by something along the lines of set in a life-killing plastic filled sewer.

One of the world’s greatest writers about Nature would only have had to travel to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds sanctuary at Bempton Cliffs in East Yorkshire to find out what is going on now.

His love of birds is known. Were he here now his mighty heart would break.


Bird City at Bempton Cliffs in East Yorkshire (Picture: Trevor Grundy)


At Bempton Cliffs, the number of fulmars (pictured) has dropped by 30 percent since 2000 to less than 900 pairs.

This is a decline that is repeated throughout the United Kingdom and is almost certainly a direct result of plastic pollution.

Fulmars feed from the surface of the sea and cannot distinguish between a tasty squid or a plastic bag.

That’s a growing problem as our seas (not just those around the UK) become more and more plastic and fishing nets polluted.

Ornithologists report that a whopping 90 percent of dead fulmars had fragments of plastic inside their bodies. They had taken “snacks” from the sea’s surface.

In its life, qualified and well-respected ornithologists estimate that the average fulmar will inject an average of 44 pieces of plastic, from bottle tops to plastic bags.

These plastic “meals” take up space in the bird’s stomach, leaving less room for real food.


The fulmar might not be Britain’s best known or most loved bird.

But that is not the point. Far from it.

Almost gull-like, this grey and white seabird is related to albatrosses.

The RSPB says that the fulmar flies low over the seas on stiff wings, with shallow wingbeats, gliding and turning to show its white underparts from its great upperparts.

At its breeding sites, it will fly high up the cliff face, riding the up-draughts.

They will feed in flocks when out at seas.

They defend their nests from intruders by spitting out a foul-smelling oil.

The breed’s name has Old Norse origins – full meaning foul and mar meaning gut.

Sadly, foul-smelling ejections from a now threatened sea-bird are powerless against the rising wave of plastic in silver seas spoken about by John of Gaunt and written by England’s greatest ever playwright and poet.