Blog by Dr Ellie Owen, Conservation Scientist, RSPB Centre for Conservation Science

What’s up with puffins?

Like many people, I love seabirds. I work in RSPB’s marine conservation science team where I carry out research to understand the threats facing seabirds. In the last few years I have been focusing on puffins. Though it seems inconceivable, puffins are now classified as vulnerable to global extinction. The RSPB has responded by increasing our efforts to understand why some puffin populations are declining. In particular, we lack evidence of how puffin diet varies around the country, and how puffin diet might have changed or worsened in recent decades as our seas have warmed.

People Powered Puffin Conservation

It’s my view that seabird conservation is something everyone can be involved in, rather than it be the remit of professionals or organisations, because people power is amazing and allows us to unlock conservation data that we couldn’t otherwise get. In 2017 members of the public became the “Puffarazzi” by taking photos of puffins that were carrying fish and submitting them to us online. More than a thousand photos were sent in from over 30 colonies around the coast and the pictures were amazing. We were able to plot the first national maps of the fish species and sizes that puffins are finding to feed to their chicks in different colonies across the country which showed up some key problem areas.


Photo: Puffin with prey. Credit: Chris Cachia Zammit

Now Puffarazzi is back, with a twist!

We are now collecting photos again – but this time there is a twist. As well as the photos you might take this summer when you visits a puffin colony, we also really want any older phots you may already have, from any year, as long as you know the year they were taken in and the place. We are hoping that by collecting older pictures we can gradually build up a historic dataset to pinpoint precise changes in what puffins feed to their chicks. There is even a way to submit pre-digital photos. It’s a chance for your photos to really be used for conservation so spread the word! Visit to submit photos or follow our progress.

New generation of Puffineers

As in 2017 the project is run in large part by a team of inspiring young volunteers - the puffineers - who are supported by me and key RSPB staff who offer the volunteers training in science communication, puffinology and marine conservation policy. The puffineers will be trained in the art of fish identifying and generate the data from your pictures. You can meet the team here.

Photo: Puffineers Chris, Rob, Georgia, Fritha and Sophie on the ferry to Shetland. Photo by Rob Hughes

To find out more and follow our journey, keep checking our website, and if you’re on twitter follow #Puffarazzi