On Tuesday, I was lucky enough to visit The Farne Islands and witness the puffin count in action. This count used to take place every five years, but it will now happen annually to enable closer monitoring of the puffin colony’s progress.
Just to give you an idea of the number of puffins we are talking about, in 2018, 43,955 pairs of puffins were present across The National Trust-protected islands - quite a few puffins to say the least.
The Farne Islands are a once-in-a-lifetime experience and an absolute must-do when you visit Northumberland. But before you do, I wanted to share my experience of this incredible and somewhat unusual island. Here are my five ‘must-know’ facts before you head to the Inner Farne.
1) You feel like a visitor in someone else’s home.
It is an amazing experience to step onto an island and instantly feel like you are entering someone else’s territory – especially when the ‘someone else’ refers to the many birds that come here every year. They most definitely rule the roost, they are not at all shy with visitors, and they squawk and potter around without a care in the world. This also means you can get incredibly close to the birds, while of course remaining within the marked areas.
2) Wear a hat.
If you are visiting the island in April or early May then this doesn’t apply too much. However, by late May, the many Arctic Terns on the island have laid their eggs, and they are extremely protective. So protective, in fact, that they tend to dive-bomb visitors, which can lead to a few nips to the head and the ears. DO NOT let this put you off visiting, as simply wearing a hat is enough to protect you. A word of advice – they will usually aim for the tallest member of the group, so stand next to them and you will be fine!
3) You have one hour on the island.
No matter which boat company you use to visit the island, the same rule applies for everyone. This is because visitor numbers have to be limited due to preservation of the island, and the birds are the top priority at all times. Whether or not you think an hour sounds like enough time, it is ample time to walk around this tiny island and see an abundance of wildlife.
4) You won’t just see puffins.
While the adorable puffins are one of the many unique highlights to this island, this isn’t all that you will see. Guillemots, which look a lot like penguins from a distance, Arctic terns, shags, razorbills, eider ducks and more, all live here or come here annually to mate. Even rabbits live here, and were believed to originally have been brought over by monks (we are pretty sure they didn’t swim here, anyway…). During your boat trip, you will also likely see Atlantic seals lolling, sunbathing and diving on the islands’ surrounding rocks and waters. Sightings are so common because the islands are home to thousands of them, and hundreds of pups are born each autumn.
5) Spectacular views really add to the experience.
While the island is famous for its birds and wildlife, the views alone are enough to lure visitors in. Sparkling sea-views and Bamburgh Castle in the distance are just fantastic, and once you have photographed the birds you will want to capture your surroundings too.