On one of the UK's largest puffin colonies, the island of Craigleith, puffin numbers crashed from about 10,000 pairs to less than a thousand, due to a giant invasive plant called tree mallow which grows to 3 metres in height. Tree mallow also spread onto the nearby islands of Fidra and the Lamb and threatened the puffin populations there as well.
Tree mallow is thought to have been introduced to the Bass Rock over 300 years ago by soldiers manning the fortress there because of the medicinal value of its leaves. It has spread rapidly in recent years, helped by mild winters (linked to climate change), taking over other islands and preventing the puffins from nesting and rearing their young.
Over 330 work parties have made regular trips to Craigleith, Fidra and the Lamb over the last 14 years to cut down the tree mallow. The project is run by and supported entirely by more than 1,300 volunteers many of whom come back repeatedly to help on work parties.
Thanks to all the volunteers’ hard work, excellent progress has been made and tree mallow has been brought under control. Monitoring is showing that the natural vegetation is recovering and the puffins are now able to nest without interference from tree mallow. Other nesting birds such as eider ducks and fulmars have also benefitted. The project will need to continue for some years as tree mallow carries on regenerating from the large seed bank in the soil.
"I have had such a great time meeting like-minded people and getting out in all weathers…but I have enjoyed the sunny days the most. I have learned so much about the coastal birds as well as the flowers and seals. I feel that your group has restored my soul after so many years in financial services in the City. I have never looked back. Again, thank you John for the experience of a lifetime." ~ SOS Puffin Volunteer