A BIRD expert is calling for urgent action to prevent seabirds becoming caught up in fishing nets off the Dorset coast.

Paul Morton spoke out after witnessing razorbills and guillemots drowning off Studland beach. He was unable to save them because he was on shore.

Film footage has also been released online showing birds either dead or dying after becoming snagged in a short section of fisherman’s netting near Portland Bill.

Razorbills and guillemots spend most of their lives at sea, diving for small fish and only coming ashore to breed. Nesting sites include the steep cliffs of the Jurassic coast.

Mr Morton, former warden at the RSPB’s Arne reserve, said: “These birds are threatened in the UK. They have a very small breeding population. They are being trapped and disposed off without anybody being told.

“The Portland video is of two to three metres of netting. You can only see the birds on the surface, but according to the RSPB, the majority of birds are trapped under the water.”

Mr Morton warned that the numbers involved meant the problem was having a ‘devastating and destructive’ effect on local populations. “These are birds that are spending the winter foraging on open water before they start returning to their breeding sites in March.”

And with the Studland area home to the UK’s largest wintering population of black-necked grebes, which also dive for fish, he is concerned that they are also falling victim to the nets.

He hopes to involve fishermen in talks to try and alleviate the problem. “I have no issue with people trying to make a living from fishing, but methods need to be looked at,” he said.

In Yorkshire, the RSPB has been working with the Environment Agency, Natural England and local fishermen to reduce the number of seabirds caught up in nets around Filey Bay. A voluntary code of conduct was introduced in 2009, and the following year a bylaw was adopted.

Now the Filey fishermen must take their nets out of the water at night during the crucial breeding month of June. Their nets must also be attended while they are in the water and have to be made of high-visibility material.

“The other issue is that if a bird does go into a net and a fisherman fails to save it, it could trigger an offence of causing unnecessary suffering under the 2006 Animal Welfare Act,” said Mr Morton, whose new Birds of Poole Harbour group will promote conservation in the internationally important site.