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Gannet (Northern Gannet)

Morus bassanus

UK ConservationIrish ConservationSmileSmile

Distribution Britain 18 (+28.6%) Ireland 5 (+66.7%)
Numbers breeding: Britain 201,000 Ireland 30,000 nests
European status: 230,000 (79% in Britain and Ireland =1)
British population trend: on the up and up, recently by 2.4% p.a.
How likely are you to record it? 10 squares (0.2%) Ranked 150 [88=]

The Gannet is the biggest, and most conspicuous, seabird native to the North Atlantic. Britain and Ireland hold about 80% of the European population. In 1900 there were nine colonies: one on Lundy, in the Bristol Channel, was about to become extinct but the rest are still extant. The total was 40,000 to 50,000 pairs. Now there were more than 230,000 pairs counted in 1994-95 in the following colonies:

ColonyCountyCountYear established
BemptonYorkshire1,631ca 1930
Bass RockFirth of Forth34,397(1447)
Troup HeadGrampian5301988
Fair IsleShetland9751974 or 75
Sule StackOrkney4,888(1710)
Sula SgeirWestern Isles10,440(1549)
Flannan IslesWestern Isles4,438(1969)
St KildaWestern Isles60,428(9th century)
Ailsa CraigFirth of Clyde32,456(1526)
Scar RocksWigtown1,9521939*
Clare IslandMayo3(1999)1975 or 1976
Little SkelligKerry26,850(1700)
Bull RockCork1,8151856
Great SalteeWexford1,2501929
Ireland's EyeDublinca. 150 (1999)1989
GrassholmPembroke29,277+1820 or later
Les EtacsAlderney3,380(1945)

*first colonisation ca 1883 abortive

The population is still increasing at a rate of about 2.4% a year and so, by 1999, there are likely to have been about 260,000. The colony at Sula Sgeir is still harvested for young birds to eat by 'The Men of Ness' and it is not increasing. New colonies are likely to be established and these can take off very quickly to reach several hundred nests in a dozen years or so. Clearly these new colonies are occupied by birds bred elsewhere — survival and productivity are high and Gannets exploit fishing discards. One unpleasant threat comes from modern, indestructible, fish nets which entangle birds at sea and may also be incorporated into nests. Excellent prospects — will they come back to nest on Lundy?

Murray, S. & Wanless, S. 1996 Scottish Birds: 18, 152-158.
Murray, S. & Wanless, S. 1997 Scottish Birds: 19, 10-27.
Wanless, S., Matthews, J. & Bourne, W.R.P. 1996 Scottish Birds: 18, 214-221.

The following Bird On! sketch is available:


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From The State of the Nations Birds
Copyright © 2000 by Chris Mead

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