Puffins are highly suceptible to the impacts of climate change such as, sea temperature rise, shifts in prey abundance and distribution.
Though the Atlantic puffin (Fratercula arctica) is listed as ‘Endangered’ in the IUCN Red list, due to rapid decline in the 2000s, these much adored species has only just been listed as ‘Threatened’ on the new European Red List of birds. Their main breeding colonies in Iceland and Norway have seen sharp declines in the number of chicks making it through to adulthood, and the alarm bells are ringing for this iconic and much-loved sea bird.
In fact, most of the Arctic sea birds such as the puffin, fulmar, kittiwake and Balearic shearwater have all been listed as ‘Endangered’ and ‘Vulnerable’ on the new list of European birds. The EU Red List of Birds is a ground-breaking three-year study, which describes the conservation status of over 500 species. At the European level, it lists 13% of birds as ‘Threatened’, and another 6% ‘Near Threatened’. Of particular concern in the West Country (South West England), are a number of the region’s seabirds. Tony Whitehead, spokesman for the RSPB in the South West, said, “The state of seabirds in Europe is particularly worrying and it’s clear we need to work much harder to provide a well-managed and properly protected marine environment as well as providing protection for coastal breeding colonies.”
Topping the list is the critically endangered Balearic shearwater, a visitor to the region’s coastal waters, particularly in summer and autumn. With a population estimated at just 3,200 pairs globally, this bird faces threats from predation by introduced mammals where it breeds, and from fishing by-catch.
There are huge concerns for the ever-popular puffin – a bird that breeds on the Isles of Scilly, Lundy and occasionally on the European mainland. The puffin populations in Iceland and Norway, which together account for 80% of the European population, have decreased markedly since early 2000.
Although the population size was estimated to be increasing in the UK from 1969-2000, evidence suggests that it has undergone rapid declines since 2000. As a result, the puffin population in Europe is projected to decrease by 50-79% from 2000-2065 (three generations). It is thought that puffins are highly susceptible to the impacts of climate change, such as sea temperature rise, and shifts in distribution of prey and abundance.
Despite historical increases over the past hundred years, there are now concerns too for fulmars, relatives of the albatross that breed on cliffs around the South West coast. Since declines began in the mid-1980s the population size in Europe is estimated to have dropped by more than 40%. They are highly susceptible to ingesting marine litter and plastics and, like the Balearic shearwaters, bycatch in fisheries is also a significant threat, with large numbers caught in longline fisheries in the North East Atlantic and in trawl fisheries.
The decline of kittiwakes in the West Country has also been particularly acute, with losses in most breeding colonies. In Europe, it is estimated that by 2020, this dainty member of the gull family would have declined by up to 49% since the early 1980s. Kittiwakes are particularly threatened by the depletion of food resources, marine oil spills and chronic oil pollution.
Over the past decade conservationists in this region have done much to ensure seabird nesting sites are protected from predators. Tony Whitehead emphasised, “We’re very pleased at the response to our partnership seabird projects on Lundy and the Isles of Scilly, where nesting seabirds are responding very positively to the removal of rats. On Lundy, we have seen significant increases of populations of Manx shearwaters and puffins, and we fully expect the same on the Isles of Scilly. But we do however; remain concerned about the state of the wider marine environment.” All sea birds of Arctic are threatened by lack of prey in their feeding ground cause by climate change.
Story Alex Rose & photographs by Michael AW (see OG Issue 35)