Puffarazzi can help conservation

Your pictures of puffins this summer could be crucial to their long-term survival.  Picture: Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
Your pictures of puffins this summer could be crucial to their long-term survival. Picture: Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

Heading out to a puffin colony is a treat for young and old alike.

And this summer RSPB Scotland is asking visitors make sure they take a camera with them and play a part in an innovative conservation project.

The hope is the legion of snap-happy ‘Puffarazzi’ will help discover what the ‘sea parrots’ feed the baby pufflings.

The colourful, comical characters are plummeting in number and have been declared vulnerable to global extinction.

Now, visitors to their colonies can play a part in a new citizen science project by photographing puffins carrying fish for their chicks in June and July and uploading the images to a dedicated webpage www.rspb.org.uk/projectpuffin. Here RSPB Scotland will analyse the photos and identify the fish to build up a picture of what puffins around the UK and Ireland are feeding their chicks.

‘Puffarazzi’ is part of Project Puffin, which launched earlier this year with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund Scotland with the aim of monitoring feeding habits and numbers by combining the latest technology with citizen science.

Dr Ellie Owen, who is leading the project, said: “Puffins are facing huge declines over the next 50 years – it’s estimated their numbers will go down by between 50-70 percent by 2065 – so it’s really important that we act now to help them.

“Anyone can take part – there are some easy steps to follow to ensure that the information being gathered by the images submitted is scientifically robust, and that puffins, and other wildlife, aren’t disturbed while the photos are taken.”

Guidance for Puffarazzi can be found on the Project Puffin webpage and covers how to avoid disturbing puffins as they photograph them. This includes avoiding spending more than a couple of minutes photographing a puffin carrying fish, keeping movements and noise to a minimum, not walking near or over puffin burrows, and keeping at least five metres away from puffins at all times.

There is also advice on

how to take the photos to ensure that the images capture the scientific information needed by the project, how to stay safe while photographing the birds and an online portal where the images can be uploaded.

Ellie added: “It’s great that the public are able to play such an active role in this project; we hope people will be inspired by the plight of these birds to become Puffarazzi.

“This is a chance for people to help shape the future for puffins.

“We expect that the information collected by the project will advise government on the best ways to protect puffins at sea so anyone taking part in Puffarazzi will be providing us with valuable data that should have a long term impact.”