The descriptive text, below the map, is from the Cornish Red Data Book (2009). The map on this web page depicts the organisms distribution and shows the records made pre-2000 and those made since.
Range & Status
North Atlantic species; in Britain and Ireland 580,000 pairs breeding; chiefly Scottish islands where numbers seem to be increasing. Southern colonies have dramatically decreased over past 50-100 years.
Cornwall: huge decrease, in 1994 only 30 birds counted at five islets off north coast, with 20 of these at the Moules. Lye Rock (formerly the most important site) now deserted, here there are said to have been 2-3000 birds in 1944, 600 in 1964, but last record was of a meagre two birds in 1981. Elsewhere noted in very small numbers during seawatches off both north and south coasts. 35 birds counted on cliffs in 2000 survey. Isles of Scilly: in 2006 there were 174 pairs on eight islands; the chief sites are Annet and Mincarlo with smaller colonies on other islets. Annet always seems to have been the main colony with a staggering 100,000 birds reported there in 1908 \endash clearly the decline has been very dramatic.
Habitat & Ecology
Inshore only in breeding season. Colonies prefer grassy slopes with burrows, but will nest in rock crevices. Pelagic after breeding, keeping well offshore. Primary food is sand-eels Ammodytes spp. which have been over-exploited by man in recent years.
Predation by Great Black-backed Gulls Larus marinus considered main cause of decline on both Annet and at Lye Rock, but perhaps this is no longer an important factor due to decrease in gull numbers. Rats may also have been a contributory factor, but on most of the other Scilly sites rats are absent. Over-exploitation of sand-eels by the fishing industry and the setting of inshore salmon nets have been blamed in other parts of Britain but the decrease in southern populations has also been linked with a gradual increase in sea temperature up to the 1950s.
Monitoring of breeding numbers is important; the most accurate counts can be made in April as birds assemble off breeding cliffs, or on June evenings as pairs stand at entrance to nest hole. Apart from ensuring that breeding sites are less likely to be rat-infested little else can be achieved; placing ' artificial Puffins' on likely breeding slopes has attracted birds onto islands with some success elsewhere. It is likely that Puffins will become extinct as a Cornish breeding species early in the present century. Listed (long list) as a globally
threatened/declining species (BSGR, 1995).
I.J. Bennallick, S. Board, C.N. French, P.A. Gainey, C. Neil, R. Parslow, A. Spalding and P.E. Tompsett. eds. 2009. Red Data Book for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. 2nd Edition.Croceago Press.
The Cornish Red Data Book Project was led by the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Federation for Biological Recorders (CISFBR). The full text and species accounts (minus the maps) are available on the CISFBR website.