Incredible pictures in the Daily Mail of gannets on Grassholm (off South West Wales) tangled in the fishing and plastic discard that’s become a carpet as birds use it to build their nests. The photos are by Sam Hobson.

Gannets are stunning, large sea birds, perfectly streamlined, they fish by diving at 60mph into the sea. They nest in just a handful of packed colonies (gannetries), most of which are around the British Isles, the largest being on Saint Kilda (59,622 birds), Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth (49,098) and Grassholm, off the coast of Wales (32,094). (These are the most recent survey numbers, which I got from the JNCC’s website. Very interesting to see that there are some birds known to nest on Rockall.)

The RSPB, who manage Grassholm, send a team out every year at the end of the breeding season to free birds that have become entangled. The sight of the plastic really brings home the scale of plastic pollution in the oceans.

I visited Grassholm in 2006, the first time I’d visited a gannetry. The spectacle of thousands of these stunning birds was unforgettable, as was the sight of so much brightly-coloured plastic in amongst the nests that covered the rock.

Grassholm in 2006

The next Gannetry I visited was that on Saint Kilda, this summer. And we had another run in with gannets and plastics – while we were conducting an offshore count of cliff-nesting birds, our expert crew, Angus and young David, spotted something in the water.

They began calling to each other in Gaelic as Angus carefully maneuvered the boat and young David got a grappling hook. After a few attempts, he managed to pull in two gannets who were tangled up together, their bills completely wrapped up in nylon filament from fishing discard.

Beautiful gannet

My colleagues carefully cut the birds free, and after a pose for photos, they went on their way.

“that’ll be the only bird you pick up this weekend, David”

Undoubtedly, without quick eye and action of our boatmen, they would have drowned or starved miserably.

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