Puffins thriving on Fidra after removal of ‘grow-your-own toilet paper’

Jenny Tweedie

Thursday 2 June 2016

Over 2000 puffins are thought to be nesting on the island of Fidra this spring, following years of work to remove an invasive plant that had been preventing them breeding.

The island, an RSPB Scotland nature reserve, had been overrun by tree mallow, which was probably planted by lighthouse keepers in the 1700s for its medicinal qualities and as a grow-your-own toilet paper.

Tree mallow is native to the south of England and Continental Europe, but has caused huge problems for puffins and other sea birds on islands throughout the Firth of Forth.

RSPB Scotland's Allison Leonard, who is the warden of Fidra, said: "Tree mallow in the Forth is a bit of a mystery. It sat quietly for years and then suddenly started spreading rapidly, possibly due to warmer temperatures associated with climate change, or with the level of nutrients in the soil.

"It quickly became rampant and caused real problems for the puffins, as it blocks the entrance to their nesting burrows. In 1996, puffin numbers on Fidra dropped to a low of only around 400 occupied burrows. This year, we've got over 1000 burrows occupied, so it's really good to see them bouncing back after all the hard work."

The work on Fidra was carried out by RSPB Scotland staff and over 20 volunteers as part of SOS Puffin, a tree-mallow removal project run by the Scottish Seabird Centre.

RSPB Scotland will be leading guided boat trips into the Firth of Forth this summer, in partnership with the Maid of the Forth. The trips will run on June 5 and 26 from South Queensferry. A one-off trip with Seafari Adventures from North Berwick will run on July 9, when the boat will travel right past Fidra. All the cruises will provide lots of opportunities to see puffins, gannets and other marine wildlife. For more information visit http://www.maidoftheforth.co.uk and http://www.seafari-edinburgh.co.uk.

The RSPB is the UK's largest nature conservation charity, inspiring everyone to give nature a home. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again. We play a leading role in BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organisations.

Tagged with: Topic: Safeguard our sealife Topic: Volunteering