Scotsman’s skua scare skewered

  • Date: 29/08/18
  • Andrew Montford, GWPF

The Scotsman’s Ilona Amos is a journalist who catches my eye from time to time, usually because of some feeble global warming scaremongering she has published. Her story today is a case in point. According to her article, “food shortages caused by climate change could wipe out rare Arctic skuas in Scotland”. Her source, she claims, is a new paper from scientists at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

A little digging on the RSPB website took me to the press release for the paper, which indeed describes a dramatic decline in Arctic skuas – an 80% fall, no less. Unfortunately for Ms Amos, the press release describes a rather different study to what she is suggesting. The scientists involved were trying to pin down a reason for the decline in numbers: was it predation or lack of food or what? The answer, it turns out, is “a huge decrease in breeding success, caused by a reduction in the food, particularly sandeels…” However, not once does the press release mention a reason for this decline. And in particular, it doesn’t try to pin the blame on climate change. In fact the press release doesn’t mention climate change at all. Not once.

To be fair, the paper itself does mention climate, but only in passing, in terms of “climate change can affect food webs”, but there should be no doubt that this is not a climate change study. Nor is climate change even a plausible explanation for the dramatic decline in seabird numbers. Similar stories come round quite frequently because so many species — puffins, guillemots and so on — have been affected by the lack of sand eels. It has therefore become reasonably well known that the reasons behind the decline for are likely to lie in over-exploitation of the fishery by man. Other suggestions include predation by other fish. Where there have been hints of a connection to ocean temperatures, the connections is almost embarrassingly weak, perhaps unsurprising given that ocean temperature changes have been just fractions of a degree centigrade.

Commenters underneath Ms Amos’s article are calling her article “fake news”. I find it hard to disagree.

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