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Spotting puffins at Spyway

A puffin with a beak full of fresh fish perched on a rock by the water on the Farne Islands, Northumberland
Puffin happy with their fresh catch | © National Trust Images / Ian Ward

The puffin is one of Britain’s best loved birds, and if you’re really lucky you might catch a glimpse of them on your walk at Spyway, where a small colony returns each year to their burrows in the cliff face.

Where to spot puffins in Dorset

Hundreds of thousands of people enjoy the South West Coast Path in South Purbeck every year. But few realise that hidden away in the sheer cliffs beneath their feet is the South Coast’s most easterly (and probably smallest) colony of puffins.

The puffins come in from the sea 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 may see them flying into their burrows in the cliffs, sometimes carrying fish, presumably to feed their young.

Two puffins perched on a flat rocky area on Staple Island, part of the Farne Islands, Northumbria
Puffins perched on a rocky area | © National Trust Images / Joe Cornish

Declining numbers

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.

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

Puffin conservation

We are doing what we can to keep Purbeck’s puffins going: experiences on places such as Lundy Island have shown that colonies can recover quickly if the conditions are right. In April 2024, we installed cameras on the ledges. These will help us establish whether lack of food or predation of the chicks by rats, gulls or crows is causing their decline. We're also working with outdoor activity companies to make sure we don’t disturb them.

Waves crashing against the Dancing Ledge on the Spyway Farm Estate in Purbeck, Dorset.

Discover Spyway

Find out how to get to Spyway, where to park, the things to see and do and more.

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Looking over a drystone wall and across a grassy clifftop, two people look out to sea from behind a wooden fence

Walking at Spyway 

Discover towering sea cliffs and rolling countryside at Spyway. Scramble down to Dancing Ledge, stroll along the clifftops or head inland to one of Dorset’s best loved pubs.

A dawn view of the rocky cliff edge and waves along Dancing Ledge, part of Spyway Farm, Dorset

Things to do at Spyway 

Discover towering sea cliffs, scramble down to Dancing Ledge, stride out on a walk along the South West Coast Path, and walk in the footsteps of dinosaurs.