Puffin numbers fall on Farne Islands

Puffin numbers on Britain’s remote Farne Islands may have fallen by an average of 12 per cent, according to the National Trust. The struggling seabird population could have dropped by as much as 42 per cent on one of the islands.

Early figures in the National Trust’s five-yearly count suggest that the puffin population on Britain’s remote Farne Islands off the coast of Northumberland could have fallen by an average of 12 per cent.

Initial numbers suggest the population has fallen by up to 42 per cent on one of the islands – much worse than expected since the last count in 2013 when nearly 40,000 breeding pairs were recorded.

The puffins have also returned four weeks later than usual to their nesting grounds due to the prolonged, harsh winter, explained the National Trust in a statement.

Ranger Tom Hendry commented: “Initial findings are concerning. Numbers could be down due to stormy or wetter weather as well as changes in the sandeel population, which is one of their staple foods.

“If the final results reflect this drop, this will increase the need for us to monitor these beautiful ‘clowns of the sea’ more frequently.”

The Atlantic puffin was given “vulnerable” status in 2015 by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature when worldwide numbers dropped, with likely contributors to this international decline cited as climate change, food shortages, extreme weather, overfishing and marine pollution.

Puffin records on the Farne Islands date back to 1939 when just 3,000 breeding pairs were recorded.  Every census until 2008 showed a steady increase in pairs of puffins – but in that year, numbers fell from 55,674 to 36,835. The last census in 2013 revealed there were 39,962 breeding pairs on the island.

The National Trust, which has been looking after the Farne Islands for 93 years, will step up monitoring in a bid to help better understand the alarming decline. The results of its new census will be announced in October.

Photo credit: ianpreston/ CC BY 2.0

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