Puffins' major food source could 'vanish from Northumberland' in coming years due to climate change, report claims

They have long been an emblem of the Northumberland coast, but the county’s beloved puffins could suffer as their main food source vanishes from our coastline in coming years due to climate change, a report has claimed.

Monday, 20th January 2020, 4:46 pm
Updated Monday, 20th January 2020, 5:51 pm
Puffins on the Farne Islands. Picture by Jane Coltman

As previously reported, consultation on the draft management plan for the Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), which stretches from Berwick to the Coquet Estuary, started today and runs for six weeks.

The plan, which is the AONB’s most important document, sets out long-term aims and objectives to ensure that this nationally important landscape is conserved and enhanced for future generations to enjoy as it is today.

The draft document also addresses climate change, mentioning rising sea temperatures, among other issues, and how this ‘will cause changes in the composition of the plant and animal communities living in the marine environment’.

For example, ‘it is likely to become too warm for northerly species such as sand eels, the major food source for puffins and tern species,’ it notes.

The management plan goes onto say: ‘It is important to identify how and where the coastline is going to be enabled to adjust to rising sea levels, for example by allowing dunes to rollback onto what is currently farmland and by enabling new areas of saltmarsh to form.

‘This will not only reduce the pressure on wildlife caused by rising sea levels; it will also reduce the risk of coastal flooding and help to dissipate the energy of storm waves as they hit the coast in addition to capturing carbon.’

As has been mentioned at the AONB annual forums ever since the 2016 EU referendum, the impact of Brexit is yet to be determined.

The document says: ‘The implications of the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union are largely unknown at the time of writing but there will be implications for agriculture and food, funding, environmental protection, energy security and other areas that could affect the AONB. These changes will not be immediate but will have an impact during the life of this plan.

‘A new agriculture policy for England will need to be developed. Defra has already set out that in future, ‘public money for public goods’ will be the basis for financial contributions to farming.

‘UK-wide changes to agricultural support could make marginal areas of the sector unprofitable in some locations and this will have consequences for land management and how it affects the landscape.’

It adds that the AONB Partnership has used funding from a range of EU programmes in the past and ‘any replacement funding is yet to be announced’.

The consultation will run until Monday, March 2. Visit http://www.northumberlandcoastaonb.org/management-plan/ to read the plan and share your views.