Conservationists are welcoming the return of puffin breeding pairs to the Scottish island of Craigleith, near North Berwick. The Seabird Centre is running a major project, encouraging hundreds of volunteers to visit the island and cut down the tree mallow, which has been interfering with puffin breeding.

In 1999, Craigleith had 28,000 pairs, but numbers dropped radically because of the spread of the tree mallow. This woody plant, which grows up to 9ft tall, chokes puffin burrows and prevents the birds from nesting.

Tree mallow is normally killed by frost in winter, but unusually mild winters in the past few years allowed it to colonise Craigleith, believe experts at the Seabird Centre. The plant has been on nearby Bass Rock since the 17th century, but has only recently affected Craigleith.

Tom Brock, chief executive of the Seabird Centre, is delighted that the project is proving successful: ‘Puffin numbers are increasing again, and birds are reoccupying their old burrows.’

The work to clear tree mallow is suspended during the puffin nesting season, which is from April to July, are will commence again in the autumn.

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