What to expect on a trip to the Farne Islands, Northumberland, England.
I love the Farne Islands! The islands are off the coast of Northumberland, Northeast England and are managed by the National Trust. There are between 15 and 20 islands depending on the level of the tide, and are famous for the seals and thousands of birds which make the islands home for the breeding season. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 the islands are currently closed to visitors. So, while patiently waiting for a chance to visit, I have prepared this Blog to remind myself of the amazing wildlife that you can experience on a trip to this fantastic location.
The islands are reached via boat trips from the coastal town of Seahouses (several are currently operating without landings). A typical trip will take you around the main islands, moor up to see grey seals resting on the rocks and also the many nesting sea birds, and provide some history of the islands which represent one of the greatest dangers to shipping around the entire British Isles. There are also normally options to land on either Staple Island or Inner Farne (both currently closed to visitors). I normally take a Billy Shiel's 'All Day Bird Watch' trip when available which allows plenty of time on both islands for photography (thoroughly recommended).
Basic map of the area showing Seahouses, Inner Farne and staple Island.
A typical boat used for the tourist trips to and around the islands.
Longstone Lighthouse is one of two in operation to protect shipping around the islands.
Thousands of guillemot pairs nest on the island and can be easily seen during the boat trip.
Here are some of the 22 species of birds which breed on the islands. Here are some of the more common species. More photos are available to view in my 'Farne Island Birds' Gallery.
The Atlantic puffin (Fratercula arctica) is the iconic Farne Island bird. Around 40,000 pairs breed. Sand eels are the main food for the puffin chicks.
The common guillemot (Uria aalge), a type of auk, is the next most populous breeding bird, with around 25,000 pairs. There is also a less common 'bridled' form with a white ring round the eye and stripe behind it.
The noisy arctic tern (Sterna paradisaea) is known for attacking visitors to Inner Farne with pecks to the head if you get close to their nests, which is inevitable as they nest right next to the boardwalks. A hat or brolly is highly recommended! Around 2,000 pairs breed on the islands.
The European shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) is a type of cormorant, around 500 pairs breeding on the islands.
Around 500 pairs of razorbill (Alca torda) breed on the islands; another type of auk with a distinctive bill and eye stripe.
The kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla), named after its raucous call, which nests on the cliff ledges in their thousands (4,000-5,000 pairs).
Around 400-500 pairs of sandwich tern (Thalasseus sandvicensis), with distinctive crests and yellow-tipped bills, nest communally on the islands.
The great black-backed gull (Larus marinus) is the largest UK gull and a bit of a bully. They harry other birds to steal their food and even hunt adult birds such as puffins. About 20 pairs breed.
The fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis) is a tubenosed seabird and is part of the petrel and shearwater family. They fly elegantly with distinctively stiff wings. Around 200-250 pairs breed.
The common tern (Sterna hirundo) is actually much less common on the Farne Islands than the very similar arctic tern (50-100 pairs). It is distinguished by the black tip to the beak.
Around 500 pairs of common eider duck (Somateria mollissima) breed on the islands. They sometimes nest very close to the boardwalks.
The Farne Islands are home to thousands of grey seals (Halichoerus grypus), and boat trips usually include a visit to one or two of the popular 'resting' spots, where the seals are relatively used to the boats and quite close views can be achieved. They also regularly appear next to the boats at sea, with curious heads bobbing in the water. Hundreds of seal pups are born on the islands each autumn.
I thoroughly recommend a trip to the Farne Islands if you are visiting Northumberland. It is an amazing wildlife experience, especially during the breeding season between May and mid July. Just remember that hat 😊