On Monday 10 August 2015 Europe’s largest conservation charity, the National Trust, celebrates 90 years of caring for the Farne Islands.
In the 90 years the Islands have become what the Trust describes as a ‘jewel in its wildlife crown’, with over 23 types of breeding seabirds living on the Islands including 40,000 pairs of puffins. It’s also one of the largest colonies of Atlantic grey seals in the UK.
In the last 90 years, there have been various landmarks for the Farne Islands in terms of site designations. The islands were one of the first designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest in 1951, and were later declared a National Nature Reserve in 1993.
General Manager Simon Lee said: “To give an idea of the truly unique nature of the Islands, wildlife spectacles have included wardens swimming with two basking sharks in October 2007 and on the 11 November 2007, 28,800 little auks streamed past the Islands. This remains a British record. For staff and visitors to the Islands, every day can bring surprises. A humpback whale breached just off Longstone in 2009, and over 300 species of birds have been recorded on the Islands to date”.
The monitoring work carried out by the National Trust over the years has provided a valuable and significant data set for conservationists. 24,000 pairs of birds were nesting on the Islands in 1970, when serious counts began. This had risen to over 100,000 pairs at its peak in 2005. The Islands’ seabird population is now at around 86,000 pairs due in the main to the puffins. The population grew from around 11,000 pairs in 1970, demonstrating meteoric success and reaching 56,600 pairs in the mid 2000s. However the puffin census of 2008 revealed losses of 19,000 pairs, indicating a possible problem on the wintering grounds the previous year.
National Trust Head Ranger for the Farne Islands Becky Hetherington said: “The Farne Islands are a crucial North Sea habitat for seabirds. As well as the counting and monitoring that is done by the team, the Islands are also important for wider scientific research. We have close links with researchers from Newcastle and Leeds Universities. Currently Liz Morgan is carrying out a PhD study into the foraging behaviour of shags around the Islands. Newcastle University is also doing pioneering work geotagging Arctic terns so we can monitor their migration journeys when they leave the Farnes this year. We’ll recover the data from them next year upon their return.”
“As well as the seabird monitoring work,” Becky continues, “every autumn our Ranger team count all the new seal pups that are born on the Islands. These results contribute important data to the longest running continual study of Atlantic grey seals in the world.”
The hugely important nature conservation work on the Farne Islands is carried out by teams of dedicated Rangers who live and work on the islands for up to nine months of the year. Life has changed from when the first wardens were first living on the Islands. Until the installation of solar power on Inner Farne in 2007, electricity was supplied by small, portable generators. Water is still transported over to the Islands by boat, and a weekly return to the mainland for a shower is a reality of life for the Ranger team.
Retired Warden and Property Manager for the Farne Islands, John Walton, said: “The Island team can get cut off. The classic tale was in the late 80s one December morning when the boat was due to take the seal team off the Islands. They indulged in a massive breakfast and a game of cricket with the remaining potatoes. Cue a sudden storm and the team were scouring the island, two days later, for the potatoes they'd used as cricket balls”.
Visitor numbers to the Islands have increased dramatically from when boats first began running trips to the Islands in 1918, and in 1970 the National Trust appointed the first Warden on the Islands, in order to better manage the increasing number of visitors.
Claire Ashby, Visitor Experience Manager said: “The Farnes are such a special place, with a wildlife experience that is arguably second to none in the UK so it’s only natural more and more people want to visit them. In 2014 we had nearly 50,000 visitors to the Islands. Everyone who visits is directly supporting the conservation work that we do there, be it through joining the National Trust, paying admission or buying a gift in our shop in Seahouses. David Attenborough is also a fan, having said that in the UK, the Farnes are his favourite place to see nature at its best”.
Simon Lee, General Manager for the Northumberland Coast said: “The future is looking bright for the Farne Islands. We’re continuing to conserve this very special place and its wildlife, and share the experience with visitors. We hope that we can look back on the next 90 years with as much pride as we have now.”
To find out more information about the work that the National Trust does on the Farne Islands, or to plan a visit, please visit the website at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/farneislands