Reasons for seabird decline include the fishing industry hoovering up the sandeels and other small fish they like to eat, invasive species being introduced to the islands on which they breed, and birds being caught accidentally by fishing trawlers.
The UK contains globally important populations of seabirds including puffins, kittiwakes and razorbills. Seabirds are also a key indicator of the health of the seas and coastal environment.
Katie-Jo Luxton, the RSPB’s director for conservation, said: “We know that targets and deadlines alone will not see seabird numbers increase, but they are important in setting out the ambition of what our governments need to achieve in order to halt seabird declines. So we are urging governments to reconsider this decision to give themselves a loophole that could mean taking urgent action to save seabirds ceases to be a priority.
“If our politicians are to live up to their promises of restoring wildlife then we need to see this reflected in the decisions and actions they take now. If the intention of the UK marine strategy is to restore our seas before it is too late, questions must be asked about why our governments are seeking not to be held accountable for failing to achieve the seabirds indicator.
“With the UK aiming to play a leading role in the [Convention on Biological Diversity] Cop to restore wildlife, why is it sending a message that it is giving up on the UK’s seabirds?”
A Defra spokesperson said: “The UK government is a global leader when it comes to protecting our seas, and we continue to work on increasing protections for our iconic seabird populations. We have set up an extensive network of special protection areas for seabirds, and are developing an ambitious seabird conservation strategy to tackle the other pressures our seabirds are facing.”