An RSPB Scotland project to aid conservation efforts for puffins has been awarded £49,800 by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Puffins are one our most recognisable and much loved seabirds with their colourful bills and eye markings. However, in recent years their numbers across the UK and Europe have plummeted leading to the species being declared vulnerable to global extinction, with further declines of between 50-79 percent estimated by 2065 (1). Warming seas, caused by climate change, affecting puffins’ food sources are thought to be one of the main threats to their numbers.
Now thanks to this HLF grant an innovative project to help these threatened seabirds will take place this year. Project Puffin (UK) combines the latest technology with citizen science to tackle three of the biggest challenges hampering conservation efforts for these charismatic birds; discovering more about what puffins feed their chicks, where they go to find food and how their numbers are changing.
As over 80 percent of the British and Irish population of puffins is found in Scotland much of the project’s work will focus here. Counts will take place at a number of puffin colonies, many of which have seen an alarming reduction in size. The counts are urgently required to accurately measure the extent of this decline and assess how puffins are currently faring.
GPS trackers will be carefully fitted to puffins at two sites in Scotland. During the summer these 31 tags will provide information on where parent puffins go to fish to feed their chick. This will then be combined to generate maps of their offshore feeding areas during the tracking, and also detail what conditions they need to feed.
Further information on the diet of puffins will be gathered through the citizen science aspect of the project taking place while puffins are feeding their chicks during June and July. Visitors to puffin colonies across the UK and Ireland are asked to take photographs of the birds with fish in their bills. The project will provide clear guidelines for this to ensure puffins, which are very sensitive to human presence around their burrows, and other wildlife are not disturbed, and so that the photographs provide the most useful data possible. An online portal will be set up to submit the photographs to; these will build a picture of what the chicks are being fed.