Counting the Farne Island puffins
The puffin is one of the country's favourite birds and the Farne Islands are one of the best places to see them up close.
Between April and late July, puffins return to the Farnes to breed and raise their young. Our rangers take this opportunity to count the puffin population levels.
Puffins mate for life, separating over winter and returning to the islands to pair up again in the spring. So for ten months of the year, our ranger team sets up home on the Northumberland islands, caring for puffins and other wildlife including grey seals, Arctic terns, eider ducks, guillemots and kittiwakes.
Every five years, the rangers undertake a full puffin census. As puffins nest underground, the rangers have to check whether the holes are occupied or not. By looking out for signs of puffin footprints and fresh digging, our rangers count the feathered occupants living inside the nests.
Once the puffin numbers are recorded, the rangers can tell if there has been a growth or decline of the colony. This information is fed into national data that helps monitor trends and gives an indication of what can be done to help the puffin species survive.
Numbers in decline
Puffins have traditionally thrived on the Farnes, due to our protection of the birds, good sources of food, a lack of ground predators and the availability of suitable nesting areas. However, initial figures for this year reveal that numbers may be down by an average of 12 per cent on the last count in 2013, when 40,000 breeding pairs were recorded. The puffins were also a month later than usual setting up home on the islands, due to the prolonged, harsh winter.
" We already know that by visiting us, donating or being a member of the National Trust, people can help the puffins continue to live on the island."
What can be done to help?
2018 marks the 25th anniversary of the Farnes achieving National Nature Reserve status. This helps protect significant areas of nature habitats and opened up additional finance for the protection of the islands, as well as providing resource for research and studies into preventing further decline.
As Tom Hendry, Farne Island ranger, says, ‘If the causes of puffin decline are what we suspect, [thought to be largely due to the impacts of climate change], it will require a bigger effort to encourage everyone to think about how we can reduce our use of single use plastics and limit our use of non-renewable energy.’
The results of the full census will be announced in October.