Puffin census 2013: the results are in

As part of the puffin census, we need to take down all their particulars © David Steel

As part of the puffin census, we need to take down all their particulars

It has taken three months of arms down burrows and beak-related scars, but we're finally able to announce the results of our 2013 puffin census - and it's good news!

Having peaked at just over 55,000 nesting pairs in 2003 after a steady rise over the previous 40 years, we saw numbers plummet to under 37,000 pairs in the most recent census of 2008. The second wettest summer on record last year which saw huge numbers of burrows flooded on the Farnes, coupled with wrecks up and down the East coast due to extreme weather earlier this year gave cause for grave concern.

However the hard work of the rangers on the Farnes and the amount of food in the area has meant that happily, we can report that there are 39,962 nesting pairs on the islands. This works out as an 8% increase on 2008 and is a huge boost for the Farnes, not only in terms of the puffin population as it is a indicator of a strong habitat for all the different seabirds who call in.

David Steel, the National Trust's Head Ranger on the Farne Islands, was one of the most concerned,

'Following the winter wreck, we feared that puffin numbers may have fallen again. Other colonies such as that on the Shetlands have struggled due to food shortages. Thankfully as the Farnes census was being completed this concern proved to be unfounded.

The bad weather during recent seasons has had some impact on numbers, but with a good nesting habitat secured by us and a plentiful supply of food in the area, numbers have been recovering pretty strongly, which is great news for the puffins and other seabirds.'

David also thought that the poor weather earlier in the year may have proved to be a bonus for the tens of thousands of visitors who have been to the Farnes this year, 

'The poor spring weather affected the timing of the breeding season, with the birds that did survive breeding late.

However this late start may result in puffins remaining at the colonies until later in the summer than normal, giving people even more opportunity to enjoy watching them.'

This season has also seen a new development on how we observe puffins in their burrows with installation of 'Puffin-Cam' on Inner Farne. This has allowed rangers and visitors alike to see the laying of a puffin egg, and witness the chick hatching on screens in the visitor centre.

The puffin count was carried out by the team of rangers on the Farnes. It involved reaching down into the 90,000 burrows on the islands. This carried a certain hazard for our staff - the burrows split into two chambers, one for the nest and the other for the communal toilet. So rangers conducting the census ran the risk of either being nibbled by a puffin, or plunging their hand straight into something unpleasant. All in a day's work on the Farnes!