Time for Life Correspondent
10:04 AM 2nd April 2019
Galapagos On The Doorstep: Farne Islands’ Fantastic Wildlife
Tourist spotting: The Farne Islands are home to UK’s largest grey seal colony. Photo by Steve Hare
Nothing can prepare a first time visitor for the sensational sight of the abundance of seals and seabirds which make their habitat in the Farne Islands off Northumberland’s captivating coast.
As someone whose twitching experiences had previously been confined to a fleeting early morning excursion in The Gambia, I was blown away as a hitherto unknown world of thousands of nesting seabirds was unveiled.
Hailed as one of the country’s top wildlife experiences, there is no higher endorsement than acclaimed naturalist and prolific documentary maker David Attenborough recommending the Farne Islands for its ‘magnificent nature’.
Home to the UK’s largest grey seal colony - around 1,000 pups are born every autumn - serious birth watchers and novices alike are captivated with the prolific variety of species. They include puffins, guillemots, razorbills, sandwich terns, shags, cormorants and eider ducks - not to mention dolphins, whales and porpoises.
The Guillemot population marked a 3% boost on the islands in 2018. Photo by Steve Hare
Island trips, which include a stop at Inner Farne, leave from Seahouses and we set off with our excited golden retriever who was also up for an adventure.
The knowledgeable crew enhance visitors’ experience with an impressive breadth and depth of knowledge about the wildlife. They also give a fascinating insight into the islands famous former inhabitants including St Cuthbert who lived there as a hermit in the 7th century.
A famous tale of heroism and bravery lie behind another famous resident, Grace Darling In 1838, aged just 22, Grace and her father William - the keeper of Longstone Lighthouse - was hailed a national heroine after making a perilous but successful attempt in a small open boat to rescue survivors from a stricken paddle steamer which had struck a rock.
The boat trips follow the rescue route Grace, who sadly died four years later of tuberculosis, and her father embarked on.
Longstone Lighthouse: home of heroine Grace Darling. Photo by Steve Hare
A major highlight is a one hour stop at Inner Farne (dogs are understandably not allowed on the island and well-looked after by the boat crew).
Inner Farne, the largest of the Farne Islands, acts as a magnet for thousands of nesting seabirds every summer. The day in, day out dedication which National Trust rangers give to the birds' welfare is inspirational - living and working through all weather conditions for nine months of every year without running water or electricity (the lights are powered by gas).
With thousands of birds nestling on what appeared to be precarious cliff top ledges, we were just yards away from Shaggs nesting - with something new and incredible around every corner.
The commitment of the National Trust, as custodian and owner of the islands, is relentless.
Important breeding ground: shags at close range on Inner Farne. Photo by Steve Hare
Becoming one of the first designated sites of special scientific interest in 1951 and declared a national nature reserve in 1993, vital conservation work including repairs and decorating for this precious habitat continues when the nesting seabirds take flight for the winter.
I wanted to share the wealth of wonders of this magical trip during English Tourism Week 2019 (March 30 - April 7) which celebrates and acknowledged the country’s tourism offering and value.
For an exceptional experience that will remain in your memory long after the seabirds depart for warmer climes, taking time to see this precious jewel in England’s conservation crown is a must
Birds of a feather: The islands team with wildlife. Photo by Steve Hare
Serenity Farne Island Boat Tours: https://farneislandstours.co.uk
Golden Gate Farne Island Tours: https://discoverthefarneislands.co.uk
Billy Shiel Boat Trips: https://farne-islands.com