The number of puffins breeding on Shetland has halved over nearly three decades, according to a recently published long-term study.
Researchers analysed a large puffin colony on Fair Isle, which lies halfway between mainland Shetland and the Orkney islands. They found the numbers breeding there have halved from around 20,000 to 10,000 individuals, with the most likely cause being that the Fair Isle’s young birds were failing to return to it. Experts say this could be because of a lack of fish to feed on.
Dr Will Miles of the Fair Isle Bird Observatory said: “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.”
Dr Mark Bolton, of the RSPB, was an advisor to the Fair Isle puffin study.
He said: “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.”
The study was published by the scientific journal PLOS ONE, and covers a period of almost thirty years, starting in 1986.
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