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Join the Puffarazzi – and help our puffins

Written by Fiona

May 15 2019

RSPB’s innovative citizen science photography project, Puffarazzi, is back and once again the charity is calling for the public’s help to find out more about one of our best loved seabirds.

Visitors to puffin colonies around the UK and Ireland in the spring and summer 2019 and 2020 are being asked to join the Puffarazzi by photographing these colourful seabirds with fish in their bills.

The project, which ran in 2017 too, is also asking for historical photos to be submitted to aid conservation efforts. All these images will help scientists learn more about what puffins are feeding their pufflings.

Puffin. Credit: Fabrice Le Bouard

Popular puffins on the decline

With their colourful bills, distinctive eye markings and somewhat comical walk, puffins are a firm favourite for many people. Yet, these birds are in serious trouble with their numbers plummeting in former strongholds in the UK and Europe and the species is now classed as vulnerable to extinction.

This project aims to find out the causes of these UK declines, which are likely to be related to a reduction in food availability caused by climate change.

Scotland is one of the most important places for puffins, with 80 percent of the UK and Ireland population breeding here.

Puffarazzi 2017

The public response in 2017 saw 602 people join the Puffarazzi. They sent in 1,402 photos, with 517 of these taken at Scottish sites.

Pictures came from almost 40 colonies around the UK, including many in Scotland, such as the Isle of May, Fair Isle, Lunga and Noss National Nature Reserve.

The photos have helped scientists identify areas where puffins are struggling to find the large, nutritious fish needed to support their pufflings. They revealed variations around the UK with some areas having far smaller fish for the puffins to feed on.

The project is looking for photos of puffins with fish. Credit: Ben Andrew

Puffarazzi 2019

Scientists are now looking to build on this knowledge with one big difference this time round – rather than just asking for current photos, scientists also need snaps of puffins with fish in their bills from any year.

Provided the year and place of the image is known, it can be submitted. Pre-digital photos to be included. All these images will help scientists to track how puffin food sources have changed over time. See rspb.org.uk/projectpuffinUK

Dr Ellie Owen, who is leading the project, said: “We’re so excited that Puffarazzi is back. The response last time was overwhelming and it’s thanks to this success that we’ve expanded the project.

“Puffins are facing a bleak future and we want to change that, which is why we need to learn more about how puffin food stocks have changed over the years.

“We’re asking you to dig around in your photo albums and digital files and to send us any applicable photos you have, however old they are. However big or small the fish is in the photo it will be really useful for us.

“Anyone can join the Puffarazzi – back in 2017 our youngest volunteer was 11 years old – and if you took part two years ago you can do so again.

“Our project website has all the information on how to take part, while keeping yourself and the puffins safe.”

Puffin with fish in its mouth. Credit: Ben Andrew.

Know what to do

Guidance on the Puffarazzi website includes how to avoid disturbing puffins while photographing them, such as:

  • Avoid spending more than a couple of minutes photographing a puffin carrying fish
  • Keep movements and noise to a minimum
  • Do not walking near or over puffin burrows
  • Stay five metres away from puffins at all times.

There is also advice on how to stay safe while taking photos of puffins, what the images need to capture for the scientific information required by the project, and the online form for submitting the photographs.

Ellie added: “We know that many people have been inspired by the plight of these plucky little seabirds and want to help them.

By becoming part of the Puffarazzi you’ll be filling in key knowledge gaps currently holding puffin conservation efforts back and will help shape future advice for government on how best to safeguard puffins.”

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