Count us in; Volunteers help carry out most accurate puffin count ever

A puffin in full flight at the RSPB's Bempton Cliffs nature reserve. Credit: James Hardisty
A puffin in full flight at the RSPB's Bempton Cliffs nature reserve. Credit: James Hardisty
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VOLUNteers have helped finally nail down the number of one of Britain’s best-loved seabirds at an iconic East Yorkshire landmark.

Puffins are notoriously hard to count because they nest in inaccessible cracks in the cliffs at Bempton to protect their young from predators. They are usually only seen as they dash back and forth with food.

Puffins can be tricky to see because they nest in inaccessible cracks in the sea cliffs. Credit: James Hardisty

Puffins can be tricky to see because they nest in inaccessible cracks in the sea cliffs. Credit: James Hardisty

But this year over 100 watchers were keeping a close eye out for the moment the birds returned for the breeding season to gather in floating “rafts” close to the cliffs before going to nest.

It has allowed RSPB Bempton to give their most accurate estimate ever of numbers - 2,300 birds, or 1,150 pairs.

Site manager Keith Clarkson said over 100 volunteers as well as birdwatchers came to help the count. He said: “It’s the first time in Bempton’s history that a reasonably accurate count has been done. Previous counts were done later in the summer when non-breeding birds were present so the counts could have been inflated.

“This year we were waiting for the first sightings and that day we just dropped everything and spent seven hours walking the length of the colony and counting all the puffins. They were spread from Flamborough to Speeton fairly evenly along the coast.”

Last year puffins were put on the global “red” list of endangered species for the first time, following a collapse in numbers in colonies further north. But Mr Clarkson said the latest figures suggested numbers at Bempton were “reasonably steady.” Puffins can typically live for 18 years - although they may live far longer - and usually breed with the same mate every year.

Joanne Mjadzelics

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