North Sea puffin numbers 'stable' after spring storm deaths

Image caption Puffin numbers at one key breeding site were found to be broadly similar to 2009

North Sea coast puffin populations appear to have weathered spring storms which caused the deaths of thousands of the birds, researchers believe.

About 3,500 puffins were found dead along the coast of eastern Scotland and north east England in March.

The deaths of so many birds is known as a wreck.

But a recent count, funded by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), found puffin numbers at the Isle of May National Nature Reserve similar to 2009 levels.

The reserve, on the edge of the Firth of Forth, is home to the largest colony of puffins in the North Sea area and is a UK hub of research into puffins.

Burrow census

The Centre for Ecology & Hydrology survey indicated that a total of 46,000 burrows showed signs of use by puffins this spring.

Researcher Mike Harris said: "This March's wreck has clearly had a serious effect on the puffins on the Isle of May but, perhaps surprisingly, numbers are very similar to the last count which took place in 2009.

"Our general impression over the last few years was that the population was increasing slowly and this may explain why we have not seen a decline following the recent wreck."

The count also revealed that the effects of the March weather seriously disrupted breeding on the island, with laying two to three weeks later than normal.

It is possible that some birds will not breed this year.

David Pickett, SNH's reserve manager for the Isle of May, said: "The March wreck has seriously affected the timing of breeding with those birds that did survive breeding very late.

"It would not be surprising if they needed a few weeks to recover and get into breeding condition.

"We now wait to see how successful these birds are in raising chicks this summer."

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