Seabird Monitoring Programme logo

Project partners

British Trust for Ornithology logo
JNCC logo

in association with


Project partners

British Trust for Ornithology logo
JNCC logo

in association with


About SMP

The Seabird Monitoring Programme (SMP) works to support the protection and conservation of our internationally important seabird populations through monitoring, surveillance, and delivery of robust scientific evidence, outreach, and by stimulating research to target effective management action.

Shag. John Harding / BTO

Aims of the Seabird Monitoring Programme

  • Collect and synthesise high-quality, representative, and accessible data on seabird breeding abundance, distribution, and demographics, to inform conservation policy and management affecting breeding seabirds.
  • Provide underpinning evidence that supports the identification of drivers of seabird population trends and research into the mitigation of their negative effects.
  • Develop and maintain an effective partnership of professional and non-professional contributors to seabird monitoring, facilitating increased public knowledge and appreciation of seabirds and their environment.

Core data collected by Seabird Monitoring Programme counts

The SMP collects annual data on the breeding numbers and breeding success of seabirds. This includes colonies and breeding populations at both inland and coastal locations.

The project collects two main types of information every year: 

  • Abundance (the number of adult breeding birds) through Colony counts.
  • Productivity (how many young were successfully raised in a breeding season) through Breeding Success recording.

There are two main counts which take place: 

  • Colony counts aim to count birds or nests within a defined count area. They contribute to our abundance data. 
  • Breeding success recording aims to count the number of apparently occupied nest sites in a colony, with a later visit to check for the presence or absence of chicks. It contributes to our productivity data.

Counts and data at additional sites

Supporting organisations also collect data from four Key Sites distributed around the UK: Fair Isle, Canna, Isle of May and Skomer.

Monitoring at these sites aims to gather information about phenology (timing of the breeding season), diet, and adult survival.

These sites were chosen to be representative of the major part of the range of most seabird species, and complement the monitoring carried out by SMP.

The history of the Seabird Monitoring Programme

The SMP was established by JNCC (then known as the Nature Conservancy Council) in 1986, working in partnership with 19 additional statutory government agencies and conservation organisations. The aim was to set up an annual monitoring programme for the 25 seabird species which breed regularly in the UK, to allow their conservation status to be assessed. 

JNCC coordinated the collection, collation, and analysis of data on seabird breeding numbers and success, which was gathered from around the UK, and from the Republic of Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, by hundreds of skilled volunteer and professional participants. A dedicated SMP database was set up to allow entry of the tens of thousands of records from coastal and inland colonies. Additional more detailed studies on adult survival, diet and phenology were also captured annually at four geographically dispersed Key Sites located around the UK.

The data and statistics were initially published annually as a report (“Seabird Numbers and Breeding Success in Britain and Ireland”), but in more recent years were presented online on the JNCC website. The data have provided invaluable insights into the status and trends of our breeding seabirds, have helped to identify possible drivers of change and, alongside national censuses, have been crucial for informing conservation policy, research and actions for this group of species.

In 2022, JNCC formed a new partnership with BTO and RSPB for funding and management of the SMP. Drawing on its considerable expertise in running bird monitoring projects, BTO now leads the coordination of the scheme, data collation and analysis.

The scheme is complemented by periodic censuses that provide more comprehensive assessments of the size and overall status of breeding seabird populations across Britain and Ireland and which provide context to the conservation of seabirds at protected sites. The SMP was established in 1986, following the second of these censuses, and organised by JNCC through to the end of the 2021 breeding season. The latest census, Seabirds Count, also organised by JNCC, was completed between 2015-21. 

Funding, partnerships and collaborators

The SMP is funded jointly by the British Trust for Ornithology and Joint Nature Conservation Committee, in association with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and is supported by Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, NatureScot and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Northern Ireland, and a wider advisory group. Close collaboration with organisations in the Republic of Ireland enables all-Ireland interpretation of seabird trends.

Get in touch

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Would you like to find out more about what we do and how to get involved?

Drop us a line:smp [at]

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