What makes the Farne Islands so magical in the spring?

Yesterday in a live Q&A on the BBC Website Sir David Attenborough was asked what was the best place in the UK to see magnificent wildlife.  His answer: the Farne Islands in the spring during the breeding season. 

Head Ranger and long term resident on the Farne Islands, David Steel, sheds some light on their wonder and why once you’ve visited you’re hooked.

What makes the Farne Islands so special? If you have visited during the nesting season you will know the answer, if you haven’t – why not? These islands provide one of the greatest wildlife experiences that you can imagine.  This north-eastern archipelago is ‘home’ for over 80,000 pairs of seabirds including over 37,000 pairs of Puffins. These islands are not large so we’re not talking giants amongst colonies, we’re taking small but action packed.

National Trust Images/Joe Cornish

National Trust Images/Joe Cornish

From early April though to July, the islands are one of the most outstanding seabird cities Europe has to offer. The sights, sounds, and smells are unforgettable with every inch of rock, occupied, every tussock of vegetation used, and it really is wall-to-wall seabirds. They even make use of the few buildings we have, with Eiders nesting in the monastic courtyard and Puffins nesting under the foundations of the garden shed. Every inch is fair game.    

Some birds travel thousands of miles to nest on the Islands, others are more stay-at-home types. From the Arctic Terns, which spend the winter off the pack ice of the Antarctic to the prehistoric looking Shags who remain around this north-eastern outcrop the year round.  It’s not just the variety of nesting species, over 20, but the sheer numbers. Where else could you find so many pairs of birds in such a compact area? Inner Farne, at 16 acres, is the ‘largest’ island and supports 19,000 pairs of birds; incredible by any standards. The islands are also a re-fuelling stop for vast numbers of migratory birds – ‘bed and breakfast’ for the weary travellers.

It’s not just the stunning wildlife which make the Farnes appealing, but its accessibility. The islands are only a thirty minute boat trip off the north Northumberland coast – not in some far flung reaches of the North Sea or Atlantic involving hours, even days, of travel. The Farnes are a seabird colony made easy, where the seabirds come to you:  Puffins within five feet, Arctic Terns pecking your head; Eiders within touching distance. The Farne Islands are simply stunning, and will both amaze and delight.

Oh, and did I mention the fact the Islands are home to the largest breeding population of Grey seal on the east coast of England? But that’s a tale for later in the year…………………   

You can follow David Steel on twitter at http://twitter.com/NTsteely

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