A big event has commenced off the coast of Northumberland: the puffin census, which takes place every five years on the Farne Islands. A team of 11 National Trust rangers will travel between eight islands in an attempt to count every single bird, a Herculean feat that will involve them sticking their arms down burrows to check which ones have a puffin at home.

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In 1939, records showed a population of 3,000 breeding pairs; in 2008, there were 36,835 pairs, a drop of nearly 20,000 pairs since 2003. Puffins thrive on the Farne Islands because there are plentiful suitable nesting areas and food plus a lack of ground predators. However, the severity of last winter may result in a further drop in numbers. ‘This March was the coldest on record since 1962,’ explains head ranger David Steel.

‘The extreme winds affected the puffins’ ability to feed as they made their way back to their summer breeding grounds.’ Cameras have been inserted into burrows to record the private lives of puffins and the footage can be viewed on www.nationaltrust.org.uk/puffins or #puffincensus.

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