Farne Island puffin numbers 'stable' after storms killed hundreds

image source, Paul Kingston

Puffin numbers on the Farne Islands have stabilised since hundreds died when storms flooded their nests last year, the National Trust has said.

About 300 chicks - called pufflings - died last June when 5ins (12cm) of rain fell on the islands off Northumberland in 24 hours, flooding their burrows.

It was feared population numbers would be badly hit but a survey has shown only a fall of 0.5%.

Trust rangers said enough pufflings had managed to hatch successfully.

The latest survey of burrows on the islands - from May to July - showed a total of 43,752 breeding pairs compared with 43,955 in 2018.

The seabird is listed as globally vulnerable to extinction because of declines in numbers, largely due to a reduction in sand eels that make up a high proportion of their diet.

image source, Paul Kingston

National Trust ranger Thomas Hendry said: "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."

In the past the National Trust has conducted its puffin survey on the islands every five years, with numbers increasing from 37,710 breeding pairs in 1993 to a peak of 55,674 in 2003.

Numbers then crashed in 2008 due to extremely low numbers of sand eels, before slowly recovering.

Rangers have now begun to monitor the population annually.

Mr Hendry added: "Switching to the annual survey in 2018 has given us year-on-year data for the first time, and it's allowing us to monitor the puffin population and breeding behaviour much more closely."

Dr Chris Redfern, emeritus professor at Newcastle University, who helped to verify the figures, added: "The effects of summer storms are a concern and suggests that as well as counting the number of breeding birds we should continue to monitor how many pairs are successful in raising chicks each year."

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