Purbeck puffins

A puffin with a beak full of fish

Hundreds of thousands of people enjoy the South West Coast Path in South Purbeck every year, many dropping down to Dancing Ledge to climb, try coasteering or just enjoy the spectacular views.

But few realise that just a few hundred yards to the west is the South Coast’s most easterly (and probably smallest) colony of puffins.

They come in to Purbeck each spring, and are here for about three months.

Perhaps because there are so few, a sight of them is a magical moment – but a poignant one too.

Be careful – and patient — and you can see them flying into their burrows in the cliffs, sometimes carrying fish, presumably to feed their young.

Decline

Although described as being as ‘thick as grass’ here in the 1930s, by 1975 numbers had gone down to just 23. For the past decade there have rarely been more than half a dozen seen.

No chicks are known to have fledged for a decade or so now, but puffins live for 20 years or more and are loyal to their nesting sites, so will keep coming back to try.

We are doing what we can to keep our puffins going: experiences on places such as Lundy Island have shown that colonies can recover quickly if the conditions are right. 

A Purbeck puffin caught on automatic camera
A puffin caught on automatic camera near its burrow in Purbeck
A Purbeck puffin caught on automatic camera

In 2018 we installed cameras on the ledges to check on their nesting, and we are working together with outdoor activity companies to make sure we don’t make their situation worse through human disturbance.

The plight of Purbeck’s puffins is sadly typical of the global situation. Their dramatic decline is thought to be largely thanks to the decline in fish populations, particularly sand eels. Elsewhere, predation of chicks by rodents has been to blame.

Clowns

The puffin is one of Britain’s best loved birds.

Their comical appearance and tendency to waddle around trying to find their way into their own burrow with half a dozen fish hanging out of their beaks has led to them being described as the clowns of the bird world.

Wish them luck, and if you are lucky enough to see one, savour the sight of one of our coastline’s most colourful spectacles.