Farne Island Puffins
When I was there the wardens seemed to be relatively happy with the numbers of birds and chick numbers. The survey however showed that the number of breeding pairs, at 36,500, was down on the 55,674 pairs counted in 2005. The results were somewhat of a mystery, there was no evidence that they were having difficulties, the birds had been bringing in good quantities of food, and there was not a predator problem on the islands and the numbers of fledging bird should have atleaset maintained numbers. It seems that the adult birds are having difficulties surviving the eight months out on the open seas between breeding seasons. The surveys are carried out every 5 years and records go back to the 1930’s with detailed counts since 1969. This years results have however prompted an additional survey next year to try and understand the reasons for this years findings.
I was on the islands midweek and they may not have been as crowded as some others have suggested. My feelings are mixed. Only two of the islands are available to be landed on and indeed my first day was the first day that the boats had been able to land anyone on Staple Island for two and a half weeks due to the swell. Access is therefore weather dependent. Access is also time limited. There are four boat companies but only one runs full day trips allowing up to two hours each on two of the islands. Other trips are just one hour on one island or non-landing boat trips. There are broad walks and everything including bags and tripod legs must stay within the broad walk limits. The wardens are friendly and informative but politely reinforce these rules. All sea bird colonies are a sight to behold and a visit is likely to fill even the least interested in natural history with wonder. My view is that it is important for conservation to allow people to have limited access to such sites. We must also remember that every person landing pays a fee to the National Trust that funds 24 hour wardening of the islands between March and December and the research which will give us a better understanding of what is actually happening to bird numbers and the environment they depend on.
For further information see also articles at the BBC and National Trust websites.