Thousands of birds killed in storms: Funding cut to seabird communities when they need it most

Guillemots on Skomer

Tens of thousands of birds – especially the auk family such as puffins, guillemots and razorbills – have been killed as a result of the endless gales and storms which have battered the country over the past two months.

It is in fact the sea that is killing the birds who have had to expend too much energy fighting big waves and strong winds without food, over a long period of time this winter.

Professor Tim BirkheadThe latest estimates from the Wildlife Trusts partnerships suggest around 25,000 birds have already died with more expected to be washed ashore over the coming weeks and months.

Yet when the birds need protecting the most, the single most sophisticated research project for monitoring seabird populations in Britain is being scrapped.

Professor Tim Birkhead, of the University of Sheffield’s Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, has been monitoring more than 20,000 guillemot pairs on Skomer Island, off the coast of Pembrokeshire, for the last 40 years.

Professor Birkhead’s crucial and unique research is so detailed that it can detect real influences on the colony’s populations very quickly.

Professor Birkhead said: “It has been an invaluable investigation, for example it is clear that climate change has had a huge effect on the guillemots as they now breed two weeks earlier than they did in the 1970s. We also know a huge amount more about guillemot biology than we did 40 years ago, and we can use changes in guillemot numbers to tell us what is happening in the seas surrounding the island.

“Long term studies like this are few and far between but remain vital for understanding changes taking place in the environment. It’s been a constant challenge both to secure funding and to carry out the work itself as the birds breed on the sea battered cliffs of a remote island.”

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Amy Pullan
Media Relations Officer
University of Sheffield
0114 222 9859