The 1869 Sea Birds Preservation Act

The Sea Birds Preservation Act 1869 was one of the first pieces of parliamentary legislation anywhere in the world to protect wildlife, and the first to offer birds protection on the United Kingdom. The bill came about from a local campaign by local clergy and naturalists to save the birds of Flamborough Head being annually blasted away by hunters and eggs being collected. It introduced a close season from April to August to allow the bird to breed.

Hansard reported in 1869 a speech in Parliament by MP Christopher Sykes. Although bird protection for its sake was a factor, the usefulness of what were called Flamborough pilots was also important

The sea birds of England were rapidly disappearing from our coasts ….A few years ago, the farmers of the East Riding of Yorkshire…were accustomed to see flocks of sea birds following at the heels of the ploughboy and from the newly turned-up earth picking up worms and grubs. But he held in his hand a letter from an influential farmer living in the parish of Filey, within a mile of the coast, stating that last summer he did not see a single bird on his farm. He appealed to the House also in the interest of our merchant sailors, for in foggy weather those birds, by their cry, afforded warning of the proximity of a rocky shore, when neither a beacon-light could be seen nor a signal-gun heard. He held in his hand a paper proving that with the decrease of those birds the number of vessels which had gone ashore at Flamborough Head had steadily increased. For the services they rendered to the mariner those birds had earned for themselves the name of the “Flamborough pilots.”. He appealed to the House, likewise, in the interest of the deep-sea fishers, because, by hovering over the shoals of fish, those birds pointed out the places where the fisherman should cast his net. On that ground alone the Legislature of the Isle of Man had lately passed an Act imposing a penalty of £5 on every man who wilfully killed or destroyed a seagull.

Lastly, he made his appeal even in the interest of those thoughtless pleasure seekers themselves who flocked to the coast in the summer months, chiefly from the populous towns of the West Riding of Yorkshire and of Lancashire. Those persons would have themselves to blame if, in a few years, they found that those rocks, which he once remembered as teeming with wild fowl, had become a silent wilderness.

The act gave limited protection to (see if you can work out what they all are: answers here)

“the different species of auk, bonxie, Cornish chough, coulterneb, diver, eider duck, fulmar, gannet, grebe, guillemot, gull, kittiwake, loon, marrot, merganser, murre, oyster catcher, petrel, puffin, razor bill, scout, seamew, sea parrot, sea swallow, shearwater, shelldrake, skua, smew, solan goose, tarrock, tern, tystey, willock”

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