VIDEO: Puffin census begins on the Farne Islands

A new puffin census is under way on the Farne Islands to determine how many breeding pairs of the birds live at the main breeding site.

The count takes place every five years and records date back to 1939 when 3,000 breeding pairs were recorded

Farnes Ranger Ciaran Hatsall gets to grips with a puffin as the National Trust undertake a census of the birds on the islands

Farnes Ranger Ciaran Hatsall gets to grips with a puffin as the National Trust undertake a census of the birds on the islands

But the last survey indicated numbers had fallen by a third. Head ranger David Steel fears the cold weather could have had a negative impact on numbers.

The last survey in 2008 recorded 36,500 pairs of puffins across eight islands. This spring and summer a team of 11 National Trust Rangers will be travelling between the Islands to carry out the mammoth task of counting every single bird.

Puffins nest underground in burrows which means the Rangers will have to put their arms into the holes to make sure that the nests are occupied during the comprehensive count.

Until 2008, each survey since the census began 65 years ago showed a steady increase in pairs of puffins on the Farne Islands, but the last count indicated numbers had fallen by a third as in 2003 the census indicated there were 55,674 pairs living on the Islands.

Picture by Kimberley Powell

Picture by Kimberley Powell

David Steel said: “David Attenbrough recently said that the Farnes during the breeding season is his favourite place in the UK to see magnificent wildlife, and with thousands of puffins with their black and white feathers and colourful beaks, you can understand why. We’ve been monitoring a small section of the Farnes every year since the last census in 2008 and have seen a small increase in numbers in this area.

“We’re hoping to see an increase overall numbers this year but you can’t tell after the winter we’ve just had.”

Factors for why the Puffins continue to flourish on the Farne Islands include better protection, good sources of food, a lack of ground predators and the availability of suitable nesting areas.

But Rangers on the Farne Islands fear that the extreme cold weather this winter which has led to a higher than average mortality rate may effect numbers.

Puffins up close on the Farnes. Pictures by Kimberley Powell

Puffins up close on the Farnes. Pictures by Kimberley Powell

David continued: “This March was the coldest on record since 1962 and this could impact on breeding numbers. The extreme winds affected the puffin’s ability to feed as they made their way back to their summer breeding grounds. It will be interesting to see the results of the puffin census which we will have available to share in July.”