Last English south-coast Puffins on the brink


The English south coast's last Puffin population is on the brink, with no successful breeding at the Dorset site for a decade.

The small colony, on cliffs at Dancing Ledge near Swanage in Dorset, comprises three nesting pairs. There has been no successful fledging of youngsters in the last 10 years – in 2023, adults stopped bringing fish back to the cliffs after three weeks, suggesting the small offspring had perished.

The colony is at high risk of extinction not only because it is small, but also because it is isolated, with the nearest Puffins being Alderney on the Channel Islands, the Isles of Scilly or Lundy.

Two of the Dancing Ledge Puffins (Pete Christie).


Cameras installed

As a result, cameras have been installed by the National Trust this April so conservationists can try and get an understanding of why the Puffins are failing to raise young. These will help establish whether lack of food or predation of the chicks by rats, gulls or crows is causing their decline. 

The charity, along with Dorset Wildlife Trust, is also working with outdoor activity companies to make sure the birds aren't disturbed during the summer.

Marine ornithologist, Dr Richard Caldow, conducted research on the three nesting pairs in summer 2023. He said: "Every day, the Puffins seemed to be taking plenty of fish to the nests which indicates that the food source wasn't a problem. But after three weeks, they stopped their deliveries.

"The pufflings need to be fed for six weeks before they leave the nest, so there must have been a reason why the adults stopped taking them fish – such as the chicks having been predated by rats, gulls or crows."


Dorset Puffins on the brink

Ben Cooke, from the National Trust in Purbeck, added: "These cameras will be key to helping us plan for the future of these special, rare seabirds. They'll help collect really important evidence of what's happening with the puffin colony, then we can assess if there is anything we can do to help."

Puffin was common at Dancing Ledge in the 1930s, but by 1975 numbers had dropped to only 23. For the past decade there have rarely been more than half a dozen seen.

In 2021, a study indicated that the UK's Puffin population could plunge by as much as 90% by 2050 because of changes in the marine environment caused by rising temperatures.