Climate change threatens almost 70% of puffins’ European nesting sites, research led by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) warns.
They have come up with guidelines for helping the threatened seabird, including putting model birds in suitable new breeding spots to attract real puffins there.
The Atlantic puffin is among a number of European seabirds whose breeding grounds are at risk from a reduction in accessible food and prolonged periods of stormy weather, the scientists warn.
Some 68% of puffins’ Western European nesting sites could be lost by the end of the century, while razorbills could lose as much as 80% of their breeding grounds, and Arctic terns could lose 87% without urgent action.
Researchers from ZSL and the University of Cambridge have published a conservation guide to protecting the 47 species that breed along the Atlantic coastline, including the UK’s coasts, assessing their specific needs and laying out actions to help each one.
These include evidence that puffins can successfully be encouraged to inhabit new suitable breeding sites by placing model birds in the area, while creating artificial nest sites has helped kittiwakes.
The ZSL Institute of Zoology’s Henry Häkkinen, who led the production of the guidelines, said: “It’s unthinkable that the Atlantic puffin, one of Europe’s most treasured seabirds, could disappear from our shores by the end of the century – alongside other important marine bird species.
“Seabirds are one of the most threatened groups of birds in the world, with many already seeing rapid global declines due to the impacts of human activity and climate change, including changes to food availability, extreme weather conditions and the loss of breeding grounds.
“These birds face double the challenges as they breed on land but rely on the sea for survival; by living across these two worlds, they are essential to both ecosystems and give us a glimpse into the health of wildlife in otherwise hard-to-monitor areas of the ocean – meaning their loss would impact countless other species and their conservation.”
The guidelines have been created through a two-year project gathering evidence from more than 80 conservationists and policy makers across 15 European countries, along with scientific papers – and the team hope to scale up the project to map risks to seabirds on a global scale.
Project lead, ZSL senior research fellow Dr Nathalie Pettorelli said: These seabird conservation guidelines – and the process behind them – provide a vital and transferable framework that can help align efforts to prioritise and implement evidence-based climate change adaptation practices to safeguard a future for the species most at risk.
“The time to act is now if we are to buffer species from the impacts of climate change,” she said.