Farne Islands remain closed to visitors after bird flu cases confirmed

Large numbers of puffins breed on the Farne Islands every year. Credit: The National Trust

One of the UK's most important colonies of wild birds will remain closed for the breeding season following the confirmation of bird flu.

The Farne Islands, off the Northumberland coast, are home to about 43,000 pairs of puffins, terns, guillemots and eider ducks.

The National Trust, which manages the islands, said visitor landings of islands will be restricted until the end of August to prevent disturbance to the birds and the spread of the virus.

Three cases of avian flu have been confirmed on the islands.

Last year, about 6,000 carcasses were collected around the Farne Islands but it is believed many more birds were killed by the virus.

Harriet Reid, lead ranger for the Farne Islands said: “Avian Influenza was rife on the islands last year and it was very distressing to see these precious seabirds impacted by the disease.  

“Sadly, with confirmed cases, there is a strong likelihood that we will see thousands of birds affected by the virus again this year. Many of the species we care for are rare or struggling already due to climate change.

About 6,000 dead birds were removed from the Farne Islands last year. Credit: PA

"By restricting access to the islands for visitors and limiting disturbance - which can cause distress to sick birds and potentially increase the transmission of bird flu - we hope to give the birds the best chance of survival."

Bird flu is still prevalent in seabird populations, despite government restrictions on housing poultry being lifted last week.

Sail around tours of the islands offered by local boat operators will continue to run.

Ben McCarthy, head of nature conservation and restoration ecology at the National Trust said:  “The on-going 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 working with partners to investigate measures to mitigate the impacts as well as better understand the long-term impacts of this pernicious disease. We are doing everything possible to mitigate the impact on the Farne Islands and our other seabird sites we manage.”  

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