Radionuclides and the birds at Ravenglass

Lowe, V.P.W.. 1991 Radionuclides and the birds at Ravenglass. Environmental Pollution, 70 (1). 1-26.

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Since 1983, concern has been expressed about the apparent decline in numbers of birds in the Ravenglass estuary in west Cumbria, particularly of the black-headed gull colony on the Drigg dunes, and suggestions have been made that this decline might be due to excessive radiation in the birds' food and their general environment. Twelve species of marine invertebrates from Ravenglass, most of them known to be important foods for birds, were analysed, and further samples were taken from sites along the west Cumbrian coast. None of these samples showed excessive contamination with any of the radionuclides analysed. Analysis of a sample of bird carcasses from the areas showed oystercatchers (Haematopus ostralegus) and shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) to have some of the highest concentrations of 137Cs in their tissues; yet their breeding success and populations were not affected. Black-headed gulls, on the other hand, were found to be feeding mainly inland, and were the least contaminated with radionuclides of all the birds at Ravenglass, yet this species and its breeding success were in decline. Calculations of the total dose equivalent rate to the whole body of the most contaminated black-headed gull amounted to 9·8 × 10−4 mSvh−1 (⋍8·4 × 10−4) mGh h−1, whole body absorbed dose rate), and the background exposure dose was of the order of 8·3 × 10−4 mGy h−1. As a minimum chronic dose of 1000 mGy day−1 has been found necessary to retard growth of nestling birds, and 9600 mGy over 20 days of incubation to cause the death of 50% of embryos in black-headed gulls' eggs, the concentrations of radionuclides in the foods, body tissues and general environment were at least three orders of magnitude too low to have had any effect. The more likely cause of the desertion of the gullery was the combination of an uncontrolled fox population, the severest outbreak of myxomatosis amongst the rabbits since 1954 and the driest May–July period on record, all in the same year (1984).

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
Programmes: CEH Programmes pre-2009 publications > Other
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: _ Pre-2000 sections
ISSN: 0269-7491
Additional Keywords: radioecology
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Date made live: 19 Mar 2013 10:27 +0 (UTC)

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