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News / Fair Isle puffin numbers in steep decline

The number of breeding puffins on Fair Isle have halved to 10,000 - Photo: ShetNews

THE NUMBER of breeding puffins in Fair Isle has halved to around 10,000 during the last 30 years, according to a long-term study.

Research published by the scientific journal PLOS One found that the puffin colony on the island has dropped dramatically – something that the Fair Isle Bird Observatory believe is down to young puffins not returning to the region.

The observatory’s Dr Will Miles said that he thinks feeding conditions also have a part to play in the decline.

He said: “We don’t know exactly why they would fail to return to Fair Isle and settle to breed but it may be due to declining local fish stocks and poor feeding conditions for seabirds in Shetland waters.

“It is very difficult to find out exactly what happens to immature puffins after they have fledged because of the vast sea areas and the problems of tracing them within other colonies.”

The study concluded that the amount of fish taken ashore by adult puffins for their young has also decreased heavily.

Miles added that whilst the number of skuas in Fair Isle – a predator that feeds on seabirds – has increased by around 300 per cent since the 1980s, puffins have largely managed to maintain a steady survival rate.

Dr Mark Bolton, from the RSPB, acted as an advisor to the puffin research and he admits the results are worrying.

“The UK supports internationally important populations of puffins, which are among our best-loved seabirds. Whilst visitors to Fair Isle can still enjoy the spectacle of thousands of birds, the severe decline reported in this study is cause for considerable concern.

“This decline reflects the recent change in the IUCN pan-European conservation status of puffin to ‘Endangered’.

“The work reported in this study is important, because it illustrates the complex interplay among many factors that may contribute to declines of seabirds, and the need for long-term studies to diagnose cause and effect.”


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