Arctic Terns returning to their nests on Brownsman Island, part of the Farne Islands Outer Group Photo: Sarah Lawrence
Arctic Terns return to their nests on Brownsman Island, part of the Farne Islands Outer Group Photo: Sarah Lawrence

Lying only a mile off the Northumberland Coast, the Farne Islands archipelago hosts one of England’s most impressive seabird colonies, managed by the National Trust. Depending of the state of the tide, the Farnes boast between 15 and 28 islands, the largest being just 16 acres in size. Onto these small isles, an assemblage of over 160,000 seabirds crowd together each summer to breed.

There are two groups to the Farnes; the largest island on the Inner Group is Inner Farne, where St Cuthbert famously spent seven years living as a hermit, during which time he was said to tame the local eider ducks, now locally known as “cuddy ducks” in his name. Half a mile east across the Staple Sound, the Outer Group of islands includes Staple, Brownsman, and Longstone; from where Grace Darling and her father heroically rescued survivors from the Forfarshire in 1838. Many lighthouses have been built on the islands over the years, and the two remaining in operation are now managed remotely by Trinity House.

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Longstone Lighthouse, from where Grace Darling and her father rescued the crew of the Forfarshire in 1838 Photo: Sarah Lawrence

The many thousands of birds nesting on the Farnes includes 2,000 pairs of Arctic terns (3.78% of the GB population), 65,751 individual common guillemots, and 43,752 pairs of Atlantic puffins. Landing on these islands is an experience for the senses, as visitors can find themselves in the heart of a seabird colony; amidst the swooping of Arctic terns defending their nests and the grumbling noise of puffins seeping out from the honeycomb of burrows beneath the boardwalk.

As well as their feathered inhabitants, the Farne Islands have a long history of human habitation, and over the centuries they have been home to monks, soldiers, lighthouse keepers, and now a team of National Trust rangers who are resident eight months of the year. There are many rocky outcrops, some with names such as Knivestone, Gun Rock, and The Thorn, and – as these names may suggest – navigating the islands can be treacherous! There have been hundreds of shipwrecks around the islands, including the one for which Gun Rock was named – where thirteen 16th Century concreted iron cannons still remain scattered beneath the waves.

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Guillemots with their chicks on Staple Island Photo: Sarah Lawrence

Throughout this long and varied human history, by extremely good fortune the Farnes have remained free from non-native predators. But although rare, the introduction of invasive species from shipwrecks remains a risk to the present day. A more recent incident involved the 250ft MV Danio, which came aground on the islands in 2013 after its crew fell asleep while on watch. On any given island, invasion of non-native predators is unlikely, but given enough islands over enough time, unlikely events become probable. The Biosecurity for LIFE project is setting up “rapid response hubs” around the country so that within 48 hours, equipment and a response team can be deployed to any island that suffers a shipwreck or suspects an invasive species has arrived.

We are working with the National Trust to update biosecurity plans and put measures in place to reduce the chance of an invasive species finding a pathway onto the islands. These prevention measures are vital, because it can be a huge challenge to remove invasive predators once they have arrived: one pregnant female rat could lead to the production of 300 rats within eight months!

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Over 43,000 pairs of Atlantic Puffin breed on the Farne Islands Photo: Sarah Lawrence

Biosecurity for LIFE and the National Trust are working together to develop a biosecurity activity for visitors to the islands, who can take some simple actions to help keep this fantastic seabird colony safe. Some top tips are to keep your food in sealed containers, re-pack your bag on the day of your visit, and never leave bags sitting on the harbourside before visiting the islands. You can also help by remembering biosecurity during your visit; telling a ranger if you think you’ve seen signs of rats or mice, and spreading the word to friends and family who may be visiting other islands.

The Farne Islands open to visitors on the 1st April, and the spring is a great time to watch shags building nests on the cliffs, and see puffins sprucing up their burrows ready for the breeding season.

For more information on visiting the Farnes:

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Prior Castell’s Tower and St Cuthbert’s Chapel on Inner Farne, with Staple Island, Brownsman Cottage and Longstone Lighthouse beyond Photo: Sarah Lawrence



October 2020

St Agnes and Gugh, Isles of Scilly

The Isles of Scilly are home to our Biosecurity Officer, Northern Ireland, Wales and SW England (Jaclyn Pearson). The inhabited islands of St Agnes and Gugh in particular are very special for seabirds. Here, brown rats were removed in 2013 to protect species including Manx shearwaters and storm petrels and the results have been incredible, not just for wildlife but for the community too. Together the 85 residents of St Agnes and Gugh continue to carry out rodent biosecurity with the support of RSPB and Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust.

April 2020

Skokholm, Skomer and Middleholm

Together these islands are estimated to hold a remarkable 67% of the world population of breeding Manx shearwater. These birds are diurnal but will only come ashore or go out to sea under the cover of darkness and nest underground so you’re unlikely to see them when you visit the islands unless you stay overnight. You will see that the ground is covered in burrows and is therefore extremely fragile so take care to stay on the paths when you visit. Skokholm is also home to the fourth largest storm petrel colony in the UK, holding 8% of the UK breeding population. These birds’ nest in crevices in stone walls or quarries and are also nocturnal when on land to avoid predation. The islands most famous resident however is the puffin, these birds nest underground but come out in the day so you are likely to see rather a lot of them if you visit between April and July. All these ground-nesting species are particularly susceptible to invasive non-native mammalian predators, they would not survive if rats, mink or stoats arrived on the islands.

March 2020


Grassholm is one of those islands that assaults your senses upon approach with both the smell, noise and sight of over 36,000 pairs of gannets. On a round island boat trip you’ll see them on their nests or flying overhead like aeroplanes before folding their wings back and diving at speed to catch their prey in the surrounding waters. 6.8% of the world population of Northern gannets breed on this lump of rock just 10 hectares in size. In fact, the majority of the island is now white in colour due to the animals and their guano, with only a relatively small strip of grass remaining where they are yet to colonise. Grassholm is the third largest gannetry in the UK after the Bass Rock and St Kilda – two other sites we’re also working on.

Illustration of birds

Contact Us

If you’d like more information or would like to report a sighting of an invasive predator please contact us using the form below: