Why can't people visit the Farne Islands?

Hundreds of dead birds have been found on the Islands off the coast of Northumberland. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

If you are trying to organise a trip to the Farne Islands off the Northumberland coast, you may have noticed that it is off limits.

The area has was forced to close to visitors from Sunday 3 July due to Avian Influenza affecting the island's famous seabird colonies.

The National Trust which oversees the running of the Island says the disease, which is also known as bird flu, is affecting puffins, terns and guillemots.

To date, hundreds of dead birds have been found on the Islands off the coast of Northumberland, which have been reported to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

It is hoped that closing the islands will limit the virus from spreading and lower the risk to people.

The Farne Islands usually attract 45,000 human visitors a year Credit: Owen Humphreys/PA

Though they will not be able to visit the island, people will still be able to sail around the islands on boat tours.

Bird Flu was discovered in the UK last winter and infection can be fatal.

It spreads when a bird comes into direct contact with an infected bird, faeces or body fluids. It can also be spread indirectly through food and water.

The disease's impact on wild birds has led to the National Trust urging the Government to do more to protect valuable seabird colonies.

As a National Nature Reserve, The Farne Islands is particularly vulnerable as it is home to around 200,000 seabirds.

These include a diversity of species like guillemots, kittiwakes, razorbills shags, arctic terns and puffins. 

Simon Lee, general manager for the Farne Islands said: “While we have no confirmed test results from the islands, we are now starting to see the terribly sad and distressing impact of Avian Influenza on our internationally important and threatened seabirds who make the islands their home.

“Seabirds nesting in dense colonies, most of which are threatened, such as arctic terns, are particularly vulnerable now as they have returned to the islands in their thousands to breed, nesting in close proximity to each other."

Mr Lee added: “Our ranger teams work tirelessly to monitor and protect these colonies, but due to finding significant numbers of dead birds, we simply have no other choice but to close the islands. 

“The effect of the disease on the colonies we care for could be devastating due to many species having low reproduction rates, which means the loss of adult birds has a huge impact on populations being able to recover."

Sea birds on the Farne Islands off the Northumberland coast Credit: Owen Humphreys/PA Archive/Press Association Images

The National Trust ranger team will continue to monitor the birds on the islands whilst the Islands are closed.

The charity says it is working alongside other organisation to protect wild birds in the UK which include the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and British Trust for Ornithology (BTO).  

Ben McCarthy, head of nature conservation and restoration ecology at the National Trust, said: “Time is of the essence. We desperately need Government to do more to recognise the impact on our wild bird populations and to take more effective action.

Mr McCarthy suggested including a National Response Plan to provide practical help for conservation teams and research into how to slow bird flu from spread. He would also like to see clear biosecurity measures.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has said the risk to people is low and symptoms are similar to normal flu as people could suffer from a runny nose, sore throat and fever.

It recommends that people do not touch sick or dead birds if they find them, but report them to DEFRA.

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