Weather woes for seabirds on the Farnes

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The past 12 months have been challenging for wildlife, with many new issues coming to the fore, say experts at the National Trust in its annual weather and wildlife review.

The year started well with the sunniest winter on record providing a stark contrast to the stormy weather which kicked off 2014. Spring arrived late, however, and summer migrant birds were held up by northerly winds.

Despite the sunniest April on record since recording began in 1929, the weather quickly deteriorated in May as the jet stream jumped south.

A storm in early May saw south-easterly winds batter the Farne Islands, destroying many of the eggs laid by cliff-nesting species, including shags and guillemots. This was followed by a generally wet and remarkably windy summer. Mid-July saw 31.5ml of rain fall on the Farne Islands. Puffin burrows were flooded, kittiwake nests were washed clean off the cliffs and many Arctic tern chicks died in the rain.

The annual breeding seabird surveys on the Farnes confirmed that guillemots have had another record year with 53,461 counted despite the storms in May, but the Arctic tern saw 600 less breeding pairs this year due to the stormy weather.

A total of 49 little terns fledged at their nesting site at Long Nanny, near Beadnell, where five National Trust rangers camp out for three months over the summer to protect this species from land predators.

This year, rangers on the Farne Islands have had a record-breaking year for cetaceans with 157 separate sightings. Highlights include 30 sightings of white-beaked dolphins and a basking shark. A milder September and October was followed with autumn rains arriving only after the warmest November day on record.

The flooding and destruction caused by Storm Desmond at the beginning of December, particularly in Cumbria and the North East, showed the intensity of extreme weather events that are likely to increase in frequency thanks to climate change.

National Trust experts say that not enough is yet known about the impact of storms like this on life in rivers and on land that has been flooded.

Matthew Oates, from the National Trust, said: “Every year our wildlife has to deal with our weather’s highs and lows, and this year was certainly no different. This summary illustrates how our wildlife has fared over the last year, but long-term trends show the enormous challenges we face to reverse the worrying rate of decline.”