National Trust reports puffin sat-nav helping to solve mystery of feeding flight paths

From: The National Trust
Published: Fri Jul 09 2010

Cutting edge technology is shedding light on the daily flight paths of puffins around the National Trust’s Farne Islands, off the Northumberland coast, and providing clues that could be vital to the seabirds’ survival.

Over the last year, scientists have used the technology to build up a picture of where the puffins are heading for when they take off from the Farne Islands each day. This shows that they are making a beeline for feeding ‘hotspots’ 20 miles out to sea.

Along with their established and protected breeding grounds on the islands, these hotspots may be important areas to conserve in order to ensure the puffin’s future survival.

Since last year, after a dramatic 30 per cent decline in puffin numbers had been recorded in 2008*, a team of researchers from Newcastle University have been working with National Trust wardens on Brownsman Island and deploying a whole raft of puffin technology to track their every move.

David Steel, National Trust Head Warden on the Farne Islands, said: "This new research and our ongoing puffin count are finally piecing together a complete picture of puffin behaviour.

"The puffins seem to be recovering slowly from the 2008 crash, with a five per cent increase in numbers recorded both this year and last.

"Technology is helping us to understand what steps need to be taken to secure their future, and that of all the seabirds that find a safe haven on the Farne Islands each year."

Dr Richard Bevan from Newcastle University, who is leading the research, said: "The technology has come into its own here on the Farne Islands. Knowing where these seabirds go to feed is a vital factor in their survival.

"For the first time we can accurately pinpoint where puffins, kittiwakes and other seabirds are going to forage, work towards conserving and monitoring these feeding grounds and securing the future of the birds themselves."

Up until now a great deal has been known about puffins' breeding behaviour on the islands but very little about where they went to forage and how they got there. Even less was known about where they went when they left the islands in summer for the long winter ahead at sea.

GPS loggers, using the latest sat-nav technology, have been fitted to 12 birds to follow their fishing expeditions out from the islands and back. Results reveal that they now appear to be travelling about 20 miles out from the islands - whereas they were previously thought to head anything up to 60 miles away.

David Steel added: "All the signs seem to be that the puffin numbers are bouncing back slowly. There’s plenty of food about for them and despite the harsh winter they arrived on the islands earlier this year, and their chicks are doing fine."

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Notes to editors
* Records for the breeding pairs of puffins found on the Farne Islands date back to the 1930s but the first detailed count took place in 1969 when there were 6,800 pairs. In 2008 the figure was 36,500 compared to 55,674 breeding pairs in 2003. Numbers seems to be slowly but steadily climbing and the next full count will take place in 2013.

About the National Trust
The National Trust is a charity with a love for preserving historic places to visit and spaces across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In short, The National Trust is a conservation charity that protects over 350 historic houses, 160 gardens, 1,100 kilometres of coastline, 254,000 hectares of land of outstanding natural beauty, 6 World Heritage Sites, 28 castles and 60 pubs - and opens them for people to enjoy on days out.

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