How breeding puffins may be benefiting from absence of visitors to Farne Islands

Puffins may be able to expand their nesting grounds on the Farne Islands due to the absence of tourists.

Tuesday, 2nd June 2020, 2:52 pm
Updated Tuesday, 2nd June 2020, 3:11 pm

The islands off the Northumberland coast are currently closed to visitors due to coronavirus restrictions but National Trust rangers believe it could be good news for the colourful seabirds.

Harriet Reid, National Trust ranger on the Farnes, said: “Puffins build their nests in burrows and in the absence of visitors we may see them expanding their usual nesting grounds to new parts of the islands.

“Areas such as the picnic spots on Inner Farne, which are usually popular with our visitors, could possibly see new guests this year.”

Puffins on the Farne Islands.

Rangers are still keeping a watchful eye on the precious seabird colony despite the challenges to typical working practices faced by the team.

The first puffins returning to the islands this year were spotted in March, but the islands are now at full capacity with rangers witnessing first-hand their courtship displays, burrow clearing and general preparations for the breeding season.

Puffins are a vulnerable species with populations seeing a severe decline across the world over the last 25 years. They are currently under threat due to climate change with rising sea temperatures affecting their food sources, particularly the sand eel, which likes to live in cooler waters.

Last year more than 43,000 pairs of birds were recorded in what was the first annual survey of the colony. Previously the counts had been conducted every five years.

Thousands of puffins have now gathered on the Farne Islands.

Numbers on the Farnes have been steady over the past few years due to the islands having very few predators.

“We’ve spent the last 95 years protecting the seabird habitats and colonies here on the Farnes, so it’s important we carry on with a revised plan for this year, so all that hard work isn’t undone,” said Harriet.

“It is highly unlikely that we’ll be able to conduct our typical detailed survey of the seabirds due to not being able to have a full ranger team on site.

“So instead we’ll be keeping records of any significant changes we’re noticing within the colony through our observations, as well as monitoring footage from remote cameras we’ve set up at key points across the islands.”

Harriet Reid, National Trust ranger for the Farne Islands carrying out checks on the puffins.

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Puffins with muddy fronts show that they've been readying their burrows for their precious eggs.

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A puffin on the Farne Islands.
Ranger Harriet Reid using a puffin camera to monitor the birds.