Birds: National Trust puffin hotspot the Farne Islands to reopen after two years of bird flu

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Hope is now building that precious seabird colonies on the Farne Islands are developing some immunity to bird flu

Birdwatchers and nature lovers will finally be able to set foot on a group of islands renowned for their spectacular seabird colonies once more.

The National Trust will reopen Inner Farne to boats later next month, after the entire Farne Island chain off the Northumberland coast was closed in 2022 due to an avian influenza outbreak. The disease, commonly known as bird flu, has been devastating British seabird colonies since its arrival, with a recent report finding it was emerging as one of the most significant conservation threats many species face.

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The Farne Islands are a national nature reserve, hosting around 200,000 seabirds - including the charismatic puffin, along with terns and kittiwakes. In 2022, rangers found more than 6,000 dead birds they feared were wiped out by the disease. But as of last year, the situation had improved, with the Trust saying in a statement just 3,647 birds were collected by the team - giving hope that immunity was building within the colony.

Puffins perching on the Farne Islands, cared for by the National Trust (Photo: National Trust/Nick Upton/SWNS)Puffins perching on the Farne Islands, cared for by the National Trust (Photo: National Trust/Nick Upton/SWNS)
Puffins perching on the Farne Islands, cared for by the National Trust (Photo: National Trust/Nick Upton/SWNS)

For now, it will be a limited trial, with Inner Farne to be the only island to welcome visitor landings this year. “We have been closely monitoring the impact of the disease on our breeding populations as part of international research into bird flu," area ranger Sophia Jackson said.

“This has shown that the disease has had devastating impacts on some species and at some UK sites making our conservation efforts all the more important. Like at other sites, it seems that the disease has declined in our birds, although we will continue to closely monitor them as the breeding season starts again."

From 25 March, the National Trust says visitors will once again be able to book a landing trip with one of the boat companies that operate out of the harbour at Seahouses. Visitors booked in for a boat trip are also asked to visit the National Trust admissions point to purchase a landing ticket - or to show their membership cards.

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Visitor operations manager Laura Knowles added: “We can’t wait to welcome visitors and to share the wonderful wildlife of the island up close once again. Sail around tours will also continue to be available for those visitors that want to experience the magic of the islands from the water.”

As well as its fascinating wildlife, visitors will also be able to get closer to the cultural history on the island, she said, which has links with early Christianity and St Cuthbert, with access inside the beautiful St Cuthbert’s Chapel and exterior views of the Inner Farne lighthouse and the Pele Tower.  

You can plan your own visit to Inner Farne by checking out the Trust's website here for more information, which includes links to boat companies you can contact directly to book a trip.

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