Seabird Centre event aims to give puffins boost

A puffin scrambles to take off in the Firth of Forth. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
A puffin scrambles to take off in the Firth of Forth. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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A SEABIRD festival is expected to attract thousands to the shores of East Lothian.

The inaugural Puffin Fest – celebrating one of the country’s most popular birds – will take place at the Scottish ­Seabird Centre next month.

It is hoped the ten-day event, featuring boat trips to visit the birds in their ­natural ­habitats, will also raise the profile of conservation work being done to increase their numbers.

Tom Brock, chief executive of the centre, said: “It’s really exciting as it’s the first time there’s been a puffin ­festival in Scotland. We thought it was about time we should have a celebration of these fantastic birds.

“But there is a serious message underneath it though as the puffins have been having a pretty tough time over the last three years.

“They seem to suffering from climate change in a number of different ways and the population has seriously suffered as a result.”

The islands of the Firth of Forth, including Craigleith, Fidra and the Isle of May, are home to around 90,000 of the birds. But the population was ravaged last year with ­thousands washed up on beaches from Aberdeenshire to Northumberland.

Scientists believe the “puffin wreck” was caused by starvation, with severe weather conditions in the North Sea leaving the birds unable to feed themselves. Scottish birds were also caught up in the storms in southern England and a shortage of sand eels has left them struggling to find food.

Breeding has also become problematic because of an invasion of tree mallow plant taking over their burrows.

Volunteers have been working hard to tackle the nuisance and recent counts showed puffin numbers are increasing.

Mr Brock said: “Everyone loves puffins because they are so attractive and colourful, they are wonderful birds. Apart from that, they are an integral part of our marine ecosystem and our natural heritage. We want the festival to be fun, celebrate everything that is great about these birds and learn things about them along the way.”

VisitScotland says ­Puffin Fest will be an “excellent addition to a year of brilliant moments” for the country.

• The inaugural Puffin Fest takes place from May 16-26.

Highlights of the festival

Puffin Express boat trips will take people to see the birds in their natural habitat. Visitors without sea-faring legs can use the Discovery Centre’s interactive live cameras to spy on them from shore. There will be a puffin trail through the centre, puffin picnics and parties with arts, crafts and storytelling activities for all ages, plus the chance to meet wildlife experts