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Environment

Britain's Puffins Could Go the Way of the Dodo in Just 50 Years, Warns National Trust

Fears are being raised that puffins could die out completely in the UK in just 50 years if we don’t take action to protect them. 

Conservation organisation the National Trust is currently counting puffins on the Farne Islands, off the coast of Northumberland, which is one of the UK’s most important puffin habitats.

And at the halfway point of the count, the results are not looking good. 

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On one of the islands, Brownsman, puffin numbers have fallen by 42% since the last census in 2013. They also fell by 31% on South Wamses, by 33% on North Wamses, and rose by 18% on Staple. 

This means that, on average, the numbers have fallen by 12% in just five years. 

“So far we’ve surveyed four of the eight islands where we conduct the census,” said ranger Tom Hendry. “Predictions have been made that within the next 50 to 100 years these stunning birds will have completely died out on the Farne Islands.”

The fall in numbers is believed by rangers to be caused by climate change, which is causing food shortages and extreme weather. 

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“If the causes of puffin decline are what we suspect [thought to be largely due to the impacts of climate change], it will require a bigger effort to encourage everyone to think about how we can reduce our use of single-use plastics and limit our use of non-renewable energy,” Hendry added

Other threats include over-fishing, invasive predators like rats, and marine pollution, reported Sky News

The National Trust team conducts a census of puffins on the Farne Islands every five years. From 1939, when there were reportedly just 3,000 breeding pairs, through to 2008, records showed a steady increase in breeding pairs. 

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But in 2008, numbers fell by a third — from 55,674 to 36,835. They then rose slightly to 39,962 by the 2013 census. 

Hendry added that the monitoring of puffin numbers worldwide is “really important to discover whether the species can continue to survive.” 

He said that the Icelandic population “in particular is really struggling,” with exceptionally low productivity for over a decade. 

Puffins generally return to the Farnes between April and late July to breed and raise their young. But this year’s census also showed that puffins had returned four weeks later than usual to their breeding grounds, because of the long, harsh winter.

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The Farnes are traditionally a good home for them, because the islands provide them with protection, good sources of food, a lack of ground predators, and a good availability of suitable nesting sites, according to the Trust.

While puffins mate for life, they separate over winter and then return to the islands to pair up again in the spring. The Trust’s ranger team sets up home on the Farne islands for 10 months a year, caring for puffins and other wildlife including grey seals, Arctic terns, eider ducks, guillemots, and kittiwakes.

Puffins raise their chicks in burrows, so the rangers have to check whether the holes are occupied or not, looking for footprints or for signs of fresh digging. They then count the puffins living in the nests. 

The information from the census is fed into national data that helps monitor trends and gives an indication of what can be done to help the puffin species survive.

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The full result of the census will be announced in October. 

The Atlantic puffin was given “vulnerable” status in 2015 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, according to Sky News. It’s also on the British Trust for Ornithology’s “red list” for species of conservation concern in the UK. 

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Farnes achieving National Nature Reserve status, which helps protect significant areas of nature habitats, as well as providing resource for research, according to the Trust. 

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