The Isle of May, a wedge of volcanic greenstone rising up out of the Firth of Forth, is possibly best known for its birds. Over 285 species have been recorded there, including thirteen key species of seabird.

It’s on its cliffs and plateaus that puffins build burrows as nests, or occupy those left them by rabbits. A puffin lays a single egg, which is then incubated by both parents, who also share feeding duties.

The Isle of May puffins could be said to be a success story. Fifty years ago there were barely more than a handful of the dapper, orange-beaked birds in residence; in recent years there have been 45,000 pairs.This year’s official census of the species is underway now, and will reveal current numbers. Already, however, there are warning notes that the long-term trajectory for the puffin might not be nearly so positive, a fear that climate-change may already be impacting on the population. At nearby Farne islands, a non-census count last year recorded only 36,211 pairs compared with 42,474 in 2018.

Puffins are not just visually entertaining – their lives fascinate too.. They bond for life and have an average life-span of 30-35 years. Some birds visiting the island may have been born there in the 1990s. One dead puffin found in nearby Dunbar, had been ringed on the Farne Islands in 1984, and was therefore 38 years old.

The Isle of May’s explosion of population took place during the 1990s, and is partly believed to be the result of migration from the Farne islands. It has since, however, been followed by a crash, from 68,000 pairs in 2002 to 46,000 in 2009.

READ MORE: COP26: Fears for UK puffin population due to warming seas

Worse still there are predictions of severe population decline in the coming decades. A report last year from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), indicated that the UK population is projected to drop by 89 percent within just 30 years. The BTO’s chief executive, Professor Juliet Vickery, said: “There is a very real chance that our grandchildren may never know what it is like to see a puffin in Britain and Ireland.”

A chief reason is the impact of warming seas on their food sources. “Climate change is affecting sand eels which feed on plankton in the North Sea,” David Steel, a manager at the Isle of May nature reserve, has said, “The plankton is moving north as the sea temperature increases. So if there are less sand eels the puffins are going to struggle.”

The isle still bustles with these charismatic birds – but for how long?