The Clown of the Sea

Puffin - Farne Islands, England.

Puffin – Farne Islands, England.

© 2014 – philip vergeylen – all rights reserved.

The Farne Islands are a group of islands off the coast of Northumberland, England. Depending on the tide, there are between 15 and 20 islands.

They are scattered a few kilometers from the mainland and are divided into two groups, the Inner Farnes and the Outer Farnes. The main islands in the Inner Group are Inner Farne, Knoxes Reef and the East and West Wideopens. They are joined together on very low tides. The island Megstone is somewhat separated from the rest of the Inner Farnes.

The main islands in the Outer Group are Staple Island, the Brownsman, North and South Wamses, Big Harcar and the Longstone.

The two groups are separated by the Staple Sound. The highest point, on Inner Farne, is 19 metres above mean sea level.

The islands have no permanent population, the only residents being National Trust bird wardens during part of the year: they live in the old pele tower on the Inner Farne, (the largest and closest inshore of the islands), and the lighthouse cottage on the Brownsman in the outer group.

The islands are considered the most famous Sea Bird Sanctuary in the British Isles. With lots of seabirds nesting on several of the islands, it is the place to be for nature lovers and bird photographers.

The puffins are by far the most popular with the visitors. Some of the islands also support a population of rabbits, which were introduced as a source of meat and have since gone wild. The rabbits and puffins use the same burrows at different times of the year. The puffins evict the rabbits from the burrows during the nesting season.

On the Inner Farne, the arctic terns nest close to, and some times even on the path that leads from the jetty to the center of the island. They will attack visitors who come too close.

Other nesting birds are guillemot, razorbill, shag, cormorant, fulmar, black-legged kittiwake, sandwich and common tern, black-headed and herring gull, common eider and oystercatcher

The islands also hold a notable colony of about 6 000 grey seals, with several hundred pups born every year in September up to November.

The Farne Islands can be visited by boat. From april till october, several 2½-3 hour trips depart from Seahouses. Local boats are licensed by the National Trust to land passengers on Inner Farne, Staple Island and the Longstone. Landing on other islands is prohibited to protect the wildlife.

The best time of year to visit the islands is between May 1 and July 31. If you plan to visit the islands several times in the same season, I advice you to becoming a member of the National Trust. Visitors are strongly advised to wear hats, as a protection against tern attacks and bird poo falling from the sky.


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