Puffins, red-faced with embarrassment

Photo: Andreas Trepte, www.photo-natur.de. via wikimedia commons

It’s been a bad few weeks for the Puffin – only tenth in the vote for our national bird and listed in the European Red List of birds. It’s not having a good 2015.

The first was just a bit of fun, the latter is a matter of life and extinction.  The Puffin is one of those species mostly concentrated in our continent (the North Americans have a few too (and there are some east of the Urals I think)) and declining in most parts of its range. This came as a little bit of a surprise to me, but then that is what these reviews are all about.

I was also surprised to see that the Fulmar is also listed as Endangered in Europe. On my recent trip to Scotland I spent several days saying ‘I’m surprised we haven’t seen a Fulmar yet’ but maybe I should not have been.

The list of threatened and endangered European birds is not full of seabirds (though there are quite a few) – in fact one striking aspect of the list is its diversity. There are farmland birds, woodland birds and wetland birds alongside the seabirds, and there are essentially rare and localised species, and species which are widespread, mixed up together here.

I find the the section on the reasons for declines in species rather opaque. ‘Biological resource use’ is the greatest threat to Europe’s birds – you what? And within that category ‘hunting and collecting of terrestrial birds’ is important  – you what? All the data are in the report but they become difficult to read sideways on-screen so I did what lots of other people will do too – I gave up.

But we must not give up on conservation efforts! Many of the species listed here would be in a much much much worse state were it not for protection from the EU Birds Directive (and other EU instruments, most notably the EU Habitats and Species Directive).  This document is a rather thinly disguised advert for the EU and its nature protection efforts and, actually, that case is a very strong one. Species protected by the Birds Directive fare better than those not so protected, and sites protected by the Natura 2000 network are some of the richest for wildlife in Europe. Added to which, much effective conservation effort has been funded by EU funds (including your and my taxes), spent on continental priorities, based on the best possible science, and making a real difference. So the case for remaining in the EU in terms of having a proper strategy and taking joint and effective action for nature conservation is very clear. That’s why you should support this initiative please.

It’s not been a good couple of weeks for the Puffin. It’s not been a good couple of decades for Europe’s birds. But it isn’t they who should feel red-faced with embarrassment – it is we human Europeans. We aren’t doing as well as we could, and we certainly aren’t doing as well as we should.

The continent that gave the world Beethoven and van Gogh, Shakespeare and Cervantes, Plato and Wittgenstein, James Joyce and Lasse Viren, Eddy Merckx and Agnetha Fältskog, Cristiano Ronaldo and Leonardo da Vinci, Ernő Rubik and Eugen Ionescu, [that’s made the point – Ed] can’t hang on to its Puffins, Turtle Doves, Lapwings, or Slender-billed Curlews.

By en:John Gerrard Keulemans [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By John Gerrard Keulemans, via Wikimedia Commons
Slender-billed Curlews? you might be asking. Yes, let’s not forget the Slender-billed Curlew – once an abundant species which migrated across the Mediterranean to North Africa and which bred in European and Asiatic Russia but it now regarded by many as being extinct as confirmed records in recent years are like hens’ teeth. There are plenty of people alive who have seen SBCs (and rather more who think they have!) because there were small numbers wintering in Morocco in living memory, but no-one alive has seen vast flocks of these birds as our great, great grandparents could have done.

Let’s not forget the SBC, and let’s not add to its fate any more formerly abundant species. Let’s do better (please). Let’s be good Europeans and save our natural heritage rather than continue to wreck it.

Add your name here to protect the EU Nature Directives.




9 Replies to “Puffins, red-faced with embarrassment”

  1. It’s also the continent that brought the world the industrial revolution. That has benefited humanity enormously (if not equitably) in terms of health, life expectancy and comfort of living but at huge cost to the the other species with whom we share the planet. We have been too slow to recognise our responsibility to make room for these species and our efforts to do so have been too feeble and limited in scope and so we shall certainly see more species following in the sad wake of the Slender-billed Curlew, the Passenger Pigeon and the Great Auk. We must act to limit the loss as much as we can.
    Should we withdraw from the EU it is extremely doubtful – given the instincts of our present government and the apparently slim likelihood of any other party winning the next general election – that the UK will develop stronger, more effective protection for its wildlife than we currently have. More probably, the government will seek to water down and dismantle ‘gold-plated’ protections that stand in the way of commercial interests. Consequently, although the environmental record of the EU is far from perfect, I believe that the well-being of our wildlife will be more secure if we remain part of the EU than if we leave.

  2. A regular comment that one hears about our membership of the EU is that we are the only country in the club that abides by the rules. This seems to be because there is no proper enforcement of the rules and it is all too easy for member states to ignore them and in the unlikely event of being found in breach, to simply pay a fine of derisory proportions.
    I spend much of my time in a European country which routinely flouts the rules and where it is hard to imagine the Habitats Directive, for instance, standing in the way of “progress” in the form of another hotel, apartment block or golf course.

    1. PeterD – I’m not convinced that is true. All member states break some of the rules – we certainly do, but all member states abide by the rules quite a lot too.

  3. Whilst I can see why some of your blogs, Mark, get a thumbs down from some readers (often, I suspect, from the same half dozen or so pro-hunting lobbyists) as you’re not afraid to challenge the vested interests. However, I’m utterly mystified why this perfectly uncontroversial commentary on threats to our birdlife should have garnered three ‘dislikes’. Perhaps those responsible would like to step forward and explain their objections. I’d be fascinated to know their logic. Perhaps, it’s simply that a small claque of “contraservationists” just hit the “dislike” button habitually not because they disagree with (or have even read) what’s written, but because of who’s written it! I do hope so since it shows you’re getting under their skin!

    1. John – it really doesn’t bother me, don’t let it bother you. In fact, I enjoy a ‘dislike’ about half as much as I enjoy a ‘like’ – it shows people are being moved in some way!

      1. It doesn’t bother me either Mark, but I’m curious about their outlook and motivation. I think that if your blog was about motherhood and apple pie they’d still find it objectionable.

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