Above: This summer the puffin population will be severely depleted by a single rainstorm © Shutterstock.com/Attila JANDI

 

EXTREME WEATHER DROWNED hundreds of young Farne Islands puffins when their burrows were flooded by almost five inches (12 cm) of rain in one day.

The National Trust – whose seasonal rangers are the only human inhabitants of the island group off the Northumberland coast – also reports Arctic tern, guillemot and shag chicks dying of exposure after their nests were washed away.

The rainfall recorded on June 13 was five times as much as for the whole month of June last year and it hit ground-nesting birds like the terns at a particularly vulnerable time. Countryside manager for the National Trust, Gwen Potter, said that while the full impact on tern numbers isn’t fully known yet, they are expecting to see a 35 per cent dip this year. She added: “We also know that 300 pufflings perished on one of the islands after their burrows flooded.”

Earlier this year, the five-yearly puffin census had been changed to an annual count amid fears about the effects of climate change on bird species. Ms Potter, who travelled down to London for the #TheTimeIsNow mass lobby of Parliament on June 26, said: “The complex effects of a changing climate on nature are becoming increasingly frequent and difficult to solve. We are now seeing frequent summer storms washing out nests on the Farne Islands on a regular basis.” 

Captive birds can also be vulnerable to unnaturally heavy rainfall, with Madu, a greater vasa parrot (Coracopsis vasa), drowning in her nest-box at the Lincolnshire Wildlife Park during last month (see News, July 3 issue). 

Meanwhile, reflecting the contradictory nature of the extreme weather events caused by global warming, Scottish National Heritage warns that, as well as flooding, the climate crisis is producing periods of drought and wildfires that could leave swathes of the country devoid of both people and birds.

“Let me paint you a picture of what we could have in Scotland in 2030,” the agency’s chief executive Francesa Osowska told the Royal Society of Edinburgh in May. “Massive areas of forestry afflicted by disease; a dearth of people in rural areas and no birdsong.”

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