Gannet champion, David Lindo: “Their whiteness, sheer number, amazing dives, size, raucous noise… when I visit a gannetry these thoughts flood my mind.” David, the ‘Urban Birder’, appears regularly on BBC television

With a UK population of 220,000 breeding pairs – 56 per cent of the world population – the northern gannet is a bird that we can say is mainly ours.

Not only that: here is a species that, unlike most seabirds, has been increasing in number at roughly 2 per cent a year since the early 1900s. It’s a rare example of wildlife bucking the global trend for decline and fall.

Though falling – well, diving – is what a gannet does best. From a height of up to 40m above the sea, four times as high as the top board in an Olympic pool, this bullet of a bird reaches speeds of 100kph.

To cope with the violent impact, it has inflatable sacs under the skin of its chest and face, plus nostrils inside its bill to stop seawater shooting into its lungs. Most dives are just a few metres deep, but some reach 10m as the bird chases herring, mackerel or sandeels.

Watching gannets plunge-dive may be high drama, but the sight of breeding pairs faithfully greeting one another is a wildlife spectacle as touching as any in Britain, making a trip to a gannet colony a must.

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Four of the best places to see gannets:

  • Bass Rock, Firth of Forth
  • Grassholm Island, Pembrokeshire
  • Hermaness, Scotland
  • RSPB Bempton Cliffs, Yorkshire


Jo PriceDeputy editor, BBC Wildlife Magazine