RELENTLESS winter storms could have had a “profound impact” on Cornwall’s fragile population of puffins, conservationists have warned.
The "unprecedented" total death toll of seabirds killed across the North East Atlantic is expected to exceed 28,000 birds following the winter storms.
The seabirds have washed up around the UK, with more than 1,000 dead seabirds recorded on the Channel Islands alone.
Dr Euan Dunn, RSPB principal marine advisor, said the situation is "unprecedented".
"This seabird wreck, on a scale unprecedented in living memory, could have profound impacts on vulnerable seabird breeding colonies, including the Channel Islands and the Isles of Scilly," Dr Dunn said.
More than 20 different species have been recorded with the major casualties being auks – guillemots, razorbills and puffins – with smaller numbers of kittiwakes, gannets, fulmars, gulls and shags.
Conservationists said that puffins had fared particularly badly, with more than 30 reported dead around the UK and 97 dead in the Channel Islands and 14,455 dead and 1,086 alive found on beaches in France.
Dr Dunn said sea warming, along with winter storms, make it hard for birds to find fish in continually turbulent seas, therefore inflicting a double whammy.
“We must do everything in our power to protect our seabird populations at sea and make them and other marine life more resilient to the devastating effects of these ‘storm wrecks’ by designating marine protected areas (MPAs),” Dr Dunn said.
“MPAs can ensure that important foraging and other areas for seabirds at sea are protected and managed to give them a fighting chance.”
Post-mortem and weighing of some corpses has shown that birds were starving and very underweight.
Most dead and live beached birds were ‘clean’, though a small proportion were found oiled, including more than 100 in the South West.