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Puffin numbers stable despite last summer’s wash-out as sufficient pufflings successfully hatch on Farne Islands - National Trust

Puffin numbers on the remote Farne Islands, off the coast of Northumberland, appear to be stable despite extreme rainfall threatening numbers, a National Trust survey has found.

There were fears that the population would be affected after devastating rainfall flooded numerous burrows on the islands last year. On 13 June at least 300 young puffins - called pufflings - died when 5in (12cm) of rain fell on the islands in just 24 hours. However, the survey, which involved checking a proportion of burrows, revealed only a marginal decrease in the population, with a total of 43,752 breeding pairs recorded in 2019, less than a 0.5% decrease on the results from the 2018 survey.

The Atlantic puffin, at home on the Farnes for breeding season. (Credit Paul Kingston NNP)
The Atlantic puffin, at home on the Farnes for breeding season. (Credit Paul Kingston NNP)

National Trust ranger, Thomas Hendry says: “When we were hit by such heavy rainfall we were really concerned that numbers would be significantly affected, which given these birds are declining in numbers across the world was a devastating prospect. However, it appears that we had enough pufflings hatch successfully to literally weather the storm, and we can conclude numbers appear to be stable.”

Puffins have traditionally done well on the Farnes thanks to the work of the rangers, protection of the marine areas around the islands, a lack of ground predators and the availability of suitable nesting areas. Numbers on the islands have increased over the past 26 years, with 37,710 pairs recorded in 1993. Numbers then peaked at 55,674 pairs in 2003 before a sudden crash in 2008 when extremely low numbers of sandeels – their preferred food supply - meant the number of breeding pairs dropped by a third, before slowly recovering.

To gain better understanding of what’s happening, the 11 strong ranger team have begun monitoring the puffin population annually, having previously carried out the survey once every five years.

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