Britain's puffins at risk due to climate change

LONDON Fri Aug 23, 2013 3:49pm BST

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LONDON (Reuters) - Puffins as well as other coastal species are under threat in Britain as erosion and climate change destroy their habitat, the country's National Trust warned on Friday.

According to the organisation, Britain's 8,050-mile (12,955 kms) coastline is already seeing rising sea levels, with projections suggesting waters could be half a metre higher than at present by 2100.

In a bid to show how plants, animals and humans would have to live alongside "an increasing rate of environmental change", the Trust published a list of six species or "six canaries in the mine", referring to the birds sent down mines to reveal the presence of dangerous gases.

It said puffins, whose black back, white underparts and brightly coloured beak make the birds instantly recognisable, were among those which could be "seriously affected" by unpredictable weather.

"Climate change could change the face of our coastal flora and fauna," Matthew Oates, the Trust's National Specialist on Nature and Wildlife, said in a statement.

"Wildlife which relies on the gradual erosion of soft rock cliffs or lives on loose sand and shingle habitats could be caught out by an increasingly mobile landscape as a result of extremes in weather."

Britain has been recording more hottest, coldest, wettest or driest months on record, potentially affecting costal habitats.

"Even on hard rock cliffs less affected by increased erosion, we are likely to see the boom and bust of more specialist plants and animals, as they suffer from increased flooding, salt deposition or drought stress," Oates said.

"Unfortunately there may be more bust than boom."

The Trust said puffins, whose main prey is sand eel, have turned to eating snake pipefish as a result of overfishing and warming seas. Puffin chicks have occasionally been found dead, having choked trying to swallow pipefish, it said.

Bad weather and a shortage of food hit burrow-nesting puffins earlier this year when hundreds of puffins and other seabirds were washed up along Britain's northeastern coast.

However a summer census on the Farne Islands showed there had been an 8 percent increase in the number of puffins from the last count in 2008, the Trust said.

As well as seabirds, plants, fish and insects could also be affected, according to the report.

Extreme storms could wash away oysterplants, which grow in exposed shingle beaches while the habitat of Glanville fritillary butterflies has been geographically restricted.

However the report added warmer seas have also brought new species. Triggerfish, usually found in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, have now turned up off the coast of North Wales.

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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