Puffins return to Puffin Island

Removing rats from Lundy has benefited a whole range of seabirds that breed there, but especially the species from which it gets its name.

Puffins can hold an amazing number of fish in their beaks – the record is 61 sandeels and one rockling! © RSPB
Puffins can hold an amazing number of fish in their beaks – the record is 61 sandeels and one rockling! © RSPB

They’re Britain’s favourite seabird and often referred to as sea parrots or clowns of the sea because of their colourful beaks and funny faces – they’re puffins and everybody loves them.

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Puffins even have an island named after them – Lundy, a lump of granite 5km long in the middle of the Bristol Channel.

Despite being widespread and numerous across the North Atlantic – the European population was estimated at more than 5m pairs last year ­– the species is forecast to undergo a steep decline over the next 40 years or so. Rising sea temperatures, which are impacting their prey species (mainly sandeels), are blamed.

But the puffins on Lundy are bucking this trend.

Ten years ago, they had virtually disappeared from the island which bears their name. There were just five individual birds, and they hadn’t successfully bred since the early 1980s.

The problem was black and brown rats, which eat eat both the eggs and chicks of burrow- and cliff-nesting seabirds such as puffins and which had colonised Lundy.

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Some 300 puffins were counted on Lundy this year – 60 times the number in 2006. © RSPB

In the early 2000s, conservationists started to eradicate rats on Lundy. It took 2,695 ‘people days’ and cost nearly £80,000, but in 2006, the island was declared rat-free.

And this year, 300 puffins (up from 5 a decade ago) were counted on the island. Not only that, but Manx shearwater numbers have jumped from 300 pairs in the early 2000s to 3,400 today.

Storm petrels, guillemots and razorbills are also doing better.

The RSPB’s seabird specialist, Dr Euan Dunn, said Lundy played an important role in the survival of puffins in British waters.

“In numerical terms, Lundy’s population is still modest but in terms of establishing a UK-wide halo of viable puffin breeding stations, I attach real significance to this recovery,” he said.

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Read more news stories in BBC Wildlife Magazine