All well in Puffindom? Reflections on the 2013 Isle of May NNR puffin census results

Earlier this morning the results of the 2013 census of the puffin population on the Isle of May National Nature Reserve were made public.

As regular readers of the blog will know there has been much concern over the state of the puffin population on the East coast of Scotland and England following severe weather events over the 2012-2013 winter. Several commentators speculated that the overall population on the Isle of May NNR could have taken a severe hit with numbers likely to be significantly down on the last count (which took place in 2008/2009 and recorded a 30% decline in population from 2003).

Slightly to our surprise the 2013 figure (46,000 burrows showed signs of use this spring) is an almost identical total to that recorded in the 2008/2009 count. There are a number of possible reasons for this and more detail can be found in the news story on our main website.Puffins on the Isle of May. Photo by Liz Mackley.

Prof Mike Harris, who led the mainly volunteer group who carried out the puffin census, is also the author of ‘The Puffin’, a standard reference book on puffins,  indeed some might say it is THE book on puffins.

In the first edition of ‘The Puffin’, published nearly 30 years ago in 1984, Mike wrote “I am optimistic about the Puffin’s future and the general state of Puffindom is far better than at any time this century.”

However, by the time of the second edition of ‘The Puffin’, co-authored with Prof Sarah Wanless, and published in 2011, a number of new issues were affecting the UK’s puffin populations, including the loss of sandeels and changes to the temperature of the North Sea.

This latest census result from the Isle of May, whilst the same as 2009 in total numbers, reflects some of these new issues which have had impacts on puffin populations around the UK. Without the long-term research and monitoring carried out on the Isle of May and other key seabird locations such as the Farne Islands and Craigleith, we would be unable to assess the impact of these changes in our environment.

Whilst new technologies have their place, and are regularly used in CEH’s seabird research, there is still much to be discovered by applying traditional ecological techniques, and carefully using them over many years.

As Graham Appleton wrote on the BTO website in his review of the second edition of ‘The Puffin’: “Long-term studies – you cannot beat them”. We agree!

Related CEH links

CEH News: Puffin count on the Isle of May NNR gives surprising result

Puffin gallery on Flickr (includes images from 2013 wreck) 

Isle of May links

Isle of May NNR

Isle of May NNR blog

Issues: