Puffin count: A surprise on Scotland’s Isle of May

A count of puffins on the Isle of May’s National Nature Reserve has delivered some unexpected results for Scottish scientists.

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A survey of puffins on the Isle of May’s National Nature Reserve has delivered some unexpected results.

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The numbers of Atlantic Puffin nesting here are similar to those taken in 2009, indicating that the population is steadier than thought.  

Scientists from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology found that 46,000 burrows showed signs of habitation by puffins, almost matching the count from three years ago.

They were surprised by this result as they expected the spring’s severe weather to have a negative effect on the population.

A long winter period and colder spring resulted in the deaths of thousands of seabirds, and 3,500 puffins along the east-Scottish and north-English coasts. Many of these Puffins were adults from breeding colonies.

Between 2003 and 2009 puffin numbers on the Isle of May dropped by 30%, with most notably higher morality in the winters of 2006 and 2007. The last full count was completed in 2009.

Emeritus Research Fellow at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Professor Mike Harris, who led the survey after studying Puffins for 41 years told Wildlife Extra: “This March has clearly had a serious effect on the puffins on the Isle of May but, perhaps surprisingly, numbers are very similar to the last count which took place in 2009. Our general impression over the last few years was that the population was increasing slowly and this may explain why we have not seen a decline following the recent wreck.”

The Isle of May National Nature Reserve is just under eight kilometres off Scotland’s south east coast. It is home to the largest colony of puffins in the North Sea and has been the main center of the UK science community’s research into puffins for nearly four decades.

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It serves as an important research centre for breeding seabirds, such as puffins, guillemots and razorbills, as well as the grey seals that pup in the autumn.