Bird flu: National Trust close Northumberland Farne Islands to visitors

Last year rangers reportedly removed over 6,000 carcasses of birds from the islands due to the virus. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees News

Visitors will not be able to visit the Farne Islands in Northumberland from April in the hope of reducing the spread of avian influenza (bird flu).

Last year rangers reportedly removed over 6,000 carcasses of birds from the islands due to the virus.

The restrictions come as the National Trust, which manages the islands, fear bird flu will rip through the seabird colonies once more.

Harriet Reid, lead ranger for the Farne Islands, said: “It was very distressing to see these precious, threatened seabirds impacted by the disease.

“Sadly, there is a strong likelihood that we will see thousands of cases of bird flu again this year, and we are gearing up to monitor the situation very closely.

“Many of the species we care for are rare and struggling already due to climate change.

"Therefore, we want to try to mitigate the impact of this disease by limiting human access, and limit disturbance - which can cause stress to sick birds and potentially increase the transmission of bird flu - to see if this will help make a difference to the spread of the disease.

"This will help us to decide whether we can open later in the season or not.”

Over 6,000 carcasses of dead birds were removed from the Farne Islands last year due to bird flu. Credit: National Trust

Seabirds including the guillemot and kittiwake were most impacted in 2022, with 3,542 and 818 dying respectively, due to the disease.

These numbers are thought to be just the tip of the iceberg as many dead birds in the densely packed cliff colonies will have fallen into the sea.

Tours sailing around the islands, offered by local boat operators, will continue to run.

The decision to limit visitors has been taken ahead of the main breeding season in April which will see species such as puffins, guillemots, and arctic terns returning to nest.

The Farne Islands is a National Nature Reserve and home to approximately 200,000 seabirds including guillemots, kittiwakes, razorbills and shags, as well as arctic terns and puffins.

Ben McCarthy, head of nature conservation and restoration ecology at the National Trust said: “The recent impact of avian influenza on our wild birds is unprecedented.

“As threatened seabirds return to their breeding sites they become more susceptible to infection due to the high densities in these spectacular colonies.

"We are actively participating in international research efforts to understand the long-term impacts of this pernicious disease and are doing everything we can to mitigate the impact on the Farne Islands and our other seabird sites we manage.”

National Trust rangers say they will continue to manage vegetation and improve nesting habitat on the islands to ensure the birds have the best opportunity to breed successfully.

They say they will also monitor the various bird species to understand how many have returned, the numbers of breeding pairs and how many chicks fledge.

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