A Nature Lover’s Paradise: The Farne Islands
Sir David Attenborough’s favourite place to ‘see nature at its best’ is surely somewhere worth checking out. Famously home to 55,000+ pairs of puffins, the largest breeding colony of grey seals in England and an array of other seabirds including terns, razorbills, eider ducks, shags, kittiwakes and guillemots, the Farne Islands offer one of the best wildlife experiences in the UK.
Just off the coast of North Northumberland, the Farne Islands are open to visitors from 28th March to the 1st November. However, boat trips run year-round from Seahouses (weather-depending) and there’s a lot of wildlife that can be seen from the water.
What you see will of course largely depend on when you visit and although sightings can never be guaranteed, The National Trust has the following tips to help you plan your trip.
January, February & March
Despite Inner Farne and Staple islands being closed, you can still see grey seals and shags from boats. Shags tend to be seen year-round and fulmars could also be starting to arrive.
With Inner Farne now open April can be an exciting time to visit the islands. The first puffins arrive, eider ducks return and many other seabirds including sandwich terns, razorbills, guillemots and kittiwakes start to make an appearance. From your boat you’ll be able to spot shags, cormorants and grey seals. The puffins will also be parading, pairing up and displaying dominant or submissive behaviour; the shags with their beautiful breeding crests looking like dragon-punk hybrids.
Inner Farne and Staple islands are open and this is a prime time to see breeding seabirds on the islands. Feast your eyes on puffins, eider ducks, kittiwakes, fulmars, guillemots, razorbills, sandwich terns, common terns, shags! May is also usually the time when the Arctic terns start to arrive; by late May their young are hatching and they are dive-bombing. Grey seals can be seen from boats from around now too.
June and July
Both Staple and Inner Farne are open, and it seems there’s an ornithological party going on. A visit in June is particularly rewarding as the birds are nesting then in their millions. Puffins can be seen on the islands, their pufflings now starting to hatch and keeping safe underground. Other seabirds – kittiwakes, fulmars, guillemots, razorbills, sandwich terns, common terns, shags – can be all seen on the islands. If you’re visiting Inner Farne you’ll see arctic terns nesting until mid-July and will be likely to witness their frenzied dive-bombing of humans (bring a hat!) to protect their chicks. The grey seals will be doing their signature lolling and digesting of fish in the water or hauled out on the rocks.
August and September
Inner Farne is open but Staple is closed. This is the month when many of the seabirds start to leave with the exception of the kittiwakes and fulmars which tend to linger until mid-late August. Shags can be spotted on the island and grey seals can be seen from boats. You may even spy a few seal pups. Now’s a good time to roam the beaches and enjoy the warmer weather nonetheless.
Inner Farne is open and Staple is closed. October signals the start of fluffy seal pup season! Watch them gather on the rocks in their thousands. It’s a great time of year to look for the last few autumn migrants.
November – December
Both Inner Farne and Staple are now closed however those venturing to the islands can see grey seals and their pups and shags from boats.
Imbued with the history of Northumberland, the Farne Islands offer so much more than wildlife, though for most that’s enough reason to visit. See the lighthouse made famous by the Victorian Heroine Grace Darling who, along with her father, rescued survivors from the paddle steamer the ‘Forfarshire’ in 1838, visit the 14th century St Cuthbert’s chapel and immerse yourself in the history of the people of the Farne Islands.
Seahouses is a 40-minute drive from Eshott Hall and well worth a visit.