Puffins ‘face extinction’

A puffin at the Farne Islands in Northumberland. Picture by Jane Coltman
A puffin at the Farne Islands in Northumberland. Picture by Jane Coltman

Puffins are among four UK bird species now at risk of global extinction, according to a new international assessment.

The cute birds, with their multicoloured beaks, are synonymous with Northumberland. They make an annual pilgrimage to Coquet Island and the Farnes to breed, before heading off to sea for the winter. Amble also holds and annual puffin festival.

Puffins on the Farne Islands. Picture by Jane Coltman

Puffins on the Farne Islands. Picture by Jane Coltman

Puffins, as well as European turtle doves, Slavonian grebes and pochards have been listed as vulnerable to extinction in the latest annual revision of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species for birds.

It brings the number of UK species at risk of global extinction to eight, while another 14 UK species are considered to be ‘near threatened’ – which means further declines in their fortunes could see them under threat of dying out.

There is even worse news for African vultures, according to the IUCN Red List, which shows that six species are now facing a higher risk of extinction as a result of poisoning, use in traditional medicine and targeting by poachers to hide illegal animal kills.

Four of the species whose status has worsened are now in the most threatened category of critically endangered, the assessment carried out by BirdLife International has shown.

Worldwide, 40 bird species have seen their fortunes decline, with helmeted hornbills in South East Asia, the Australian swift parrot and the chestnut-capped piha in the Central Andes of Colombia all newly listed as critically endangered.

Although the Atlantic puffin populations are still in their millions, breeding failures at key colonies have been worryingly high in recent years, with fewer young birds surviving to breed.

This has led to them being listed as vulnerable to extinction, the lowest of three categories, behind critically endangered and endangered, which denotes a species is at risk of dying out globally.

Earlier this year, the puffin lost out in the battle to become Britain’s first national bird, with the robin taking the title.

Declines in turtle dove numbers across Europe of more than 30 per cent in the past 16 years have also made it vulnerable to extinction, with particularly high reductions in the UK - which has lost of nine out 10 birds since the 1970s.

Most of the Slavonian grebe’s population is in North America, where a large and significant decrease in numbers has led to its inclusion on the Red List.

Nesting birds in the Scottish Highlands have also declined here – although populations overwintering on the coast have increased.

Pochards have declined significantly in recent years across Europe, leading it to be listed as vulnerable. Experts said numbers of nesting pochards and overwintering ducks in the UK had declined markedly.

Other UK birds have been added to the near threatened list – including oystercatchers, lapwings, know, curlew sandpiper and bar-tailed godwit – and join species already listed such as the black-tailed godwit and curlew.

RSPB conservation director Martin Harper said: “The global wave of extinction is now lapping at our shores. The erosion of the UK’s wildlife is staggering and this is reinforced when you talk about puffin and turtle dove now facing the same level of extinction threat as African elephant and lion, and being more endangered than the humpback whale.”