Puffins back on track after dismal start to the season

Puffins on the Farnes.
Puffins on the Farnes.

After a tough few years when bad weather and lack of food have hit puffin numbers, the Farne Islands’ population is making a strong recovery.

All the indications at the moment suggest that the current breeding season is going to be a success, a huge relief after spring storms caused the worst puffin ‘wreck’ in 66 years.

The March wreck, which saw 3,500 birds wash up dead along the North-East coast of Britain, was caused by icy easterly winds.

It followed a summer when the puffins on the archipelago were flooded out of their underground homes, with more than 40 per cent failing to breed.

David Steel, head ranger on the National Trust-managed islands, said: “We had a really rocky start to the season back in March and April when there was a lot of bad weather and lots of birds were being washed up dead but I’m glad to say it’s all settled down and it’s turned out to be a really good season.

“We have had a really good spell of weather over the last five or six weeks resulting in this which is fantastic for the Farne Islands. It’s great for visitors and even better for the birds.

“It looks like it’s going to be a successful year, but we’re now right at the crucial stage where birds have their chicks. Over the next three to four weeks we will hopefully see all these chicks fledge and we will all be happy.”

Back in May, the 10 National Trust rangers living on the islands embarked on a census of puffin numbers, dangling their bare fingers down 60,000 puffin burrows to count them.

The census occurs every five years and since it began in 1939, puffin numbers on the Farnes have soared from 3,000 breeding pairs to 36,835 pairs in 2008.

But that figure was a 30 per cent fall from the high of 2003, raising fears that the extreme weather and warmer seas caused by climate change may be affecting the puffins.

David added: “It’s about four years since they had a good year and so far it’s heading towards an excellent year.”