This article by Michael McCarthy in the Independent newspaper describes a sad and worrying consequence of the exceptionally frequent and severe storms that we have experienced this winter….
“Tens of thousands of birds – particularly auks such as puffins, guillemots (pictured) and razorbills – have died as a result of the seemingly endless gales of the last two months. Their remains are now being washed up on the coasts of Wales, Cornwall and the Channel Islands, and even more so on the Atlantic coast of France – that is, the beaches of the Bay of Biscay, which is where large numbers of British puffins and their auk cousins spend the winter”.
“It is one of the largest “wrecks” of seabirds ever witnessed and bears comparison with the huge bird mortalities caused by the oil spills from tanker disasters of recent years, such as the Amoco Cadiz in 1978 and the Erika in 1999, both off the coast of Brittany, as well as the 1993 spill of the tanker Braer off Shetland and the 1996 spill of the Sea Empress off south Wales.
And counter-intuitive though it may be, it is indeed the sea that’s killing them. The birds are dying because this winter, they have had to expend too much energy fighting big waves and big winds over a long period at a time, when food is harder than ever to find, since fish shoals are broken up in the storms. Latest estimates from the Wildlife Trusts partnership suggest a confirmed death toll of around 25,000, which is expected to rise steadily as more corpses are washed ashore”.
“This natural disaster only serves to underline how vulnerable our seabirds are to other threats, such as the oil spills, and increasingly to two more dangers – climate change, and overfishing. Seabird colonies in northern Britain, in areas such as Orkney and Shetland, are doing increasingly badly – in some, only a fifth of the breeding birds are raising chicks – and this has happened because their food, largely small fish called sandeels, has disappeared. It may be because of too much trawling, or it may be because in rising water temperatures the sandeels have moved north – but they’re no longer available, and fears are growing that all British seabird colonies may similarly suffer”.