Seal pup census carried out by flying drone over Farne Islands

Seals on the Farne Islands. Credit: PA Images

An annual seal census in Northumberland has had to be carried out from the air because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Social distancing and furlough have meant National Trust rangers have not been staying on the Farne Islands where they normally monitor the wildlife.

As a result, the group used a drone operator to film the islands and experts will count the pups to monitor the population of grey seals.

Drone pilot Ritchie Southerton working on the seal census in the Farne Islands. Credit: PA Images

In recent years, numbers have been rising and early indications show a record 3,000 pups could be born this season, up from 2,800 last year.

Globally, the Atlantic grey is one of the rarest seal species and is a protected sea mammal.

There are around 300,000 worldwide, with some 40 per cent living in British and Irish waters.

The Farne Islands are home to one of England's largest colonies.

Normally, the pups are counted individually by rangers walking through the colony and marking them with a vegetable dye to indicate they have been recorded.

Covid-19 though meant fewer rangers could safely stay together on the islands in their limited accommodation. The National Trust has also furloughed staff.

National Trust ranger Harriet Reid said:

Drone pilot Ritchie Southerton has previously helped with the count but this is the first time the survey has been done by air alone.

He said: