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Puffling rescues at the Scottish Seabird Centre

Centre appeals for public to keep their eyes peeled for pufflings

Conservation and education charity, the Scottish Seabird Centre, is urging East Lothian residents to keep an eye out for young puffins, as puffling season is now in full swing.

Puffins and their pufflings are now leaving their burrows on the islands of Craigleith, Fidra and the Isle of May National Nature Reserve, and heading out to sea. The adults will not come ashore again until they return to breed next spring.

However, after leaving their burrows on the island of Craigleith, just offshore from North Berwick, some pufflings become disorientated by lights from the mainland. Their first ever flight may see them flying into town and seeking somewhere dark to hide from predators, such as gulls, often underneath cars and under plants in gardens.

The Scottish Seabird Centre has already assisted with two rescue missions this season. Seabird Centre Boat Office Manager, Claudia Gehrig, spotted a puffling on North Berwick High Street on 19 July. The startled puffling hid under a car so a call was made to the Scottish SPCA. After coaxing the puffling, named Phil, into a long net, it was taken to the Seabird Centre where it was later taken out on a RIB (rigid inflatable boat) where boat guide, James Leyden, ensured Phil made it safely back out to sea.

James was also involved in a second rescue mission with Polly the puffling. On 27 July, North Berwick residents, Sandra and Ronnie Williams, of Lord President Road, were alerted to a puffling in their garden by their dog, Alfie. Sandra said: “We realised it was a puffling and so managed to catch it and kept it safe overnight in a box in the garage. We phoned the Seabird Centre the following morning and took it down there where staff looked after Polly until it was time to head back out to sea.”

Polly joined a Three Islands Seabird Seafari boat trip where it safely joined other puffins on the sea between Craigleith and the Bass Rock.

The Scottish Seabird Centre’s Chief Executive, Tom Brock OBE, has appealed for everyone to be vigilant and to call the Scottish Seabird Centre on 01620 890202 or the Scottish SPCA on 03000 999 999 if they find a puffling.

Tom Brock said: “These two rescues have demonstrated that there are pufflings around North Berwick just now so we are appealing to everyone to please keep an eye out under cars and in their gardens over the next few weeks.

“It is a crucial time in the puffin season and we want to ensure as many as possible of these wonderful seabirds make it out to sea. Pufflings look very different from their colourful parents; they are shades of grey, white and black, their smaller beaks don’t have the characteristic bright colours that the adults have in summer. Both puffins and pufflings can be killed and eaten by gulls, which we are also keen to avoid.

“If we can rescue and release as many pufflings as possible, we can look forward to seeing them in future years from our boat trips and on our live cameras when they themselves return to breed on the local islands.”

There are around 5,500 apparently occupied puffin burrows on Craigleith and around 55,000 around the Firth of Forth, with two adults and one puffling for each successful burrow nest.

The Scottish Seabird Centre leads a number of campaigns focussing on the conservation of seabirds and the marine environment including SOS Puffin, a campaign to remove a giant invasive plant called tree mallow. This plant was preventing puffins from nesting and rearing their pufflings on the nearby islands of Fidra and Craigleith, causing a major population decline. Around 1,000 volunteers have helped with this project and, thanks to their hard work, local puffin numbers are recovering and biodiversity is increasing.

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