Farne Islands to reopen to visitors after two-year closure due to 'devastating' avian flu

Around 200,000 seabirds, including puffins, Arctic terns, and kittiwakes make their home on the Farnes. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

An internationally-important seabird colony is to reopen to visitors this spring after it was shut due to avian flu.

Visitor boats will be able to land on the Farne Islands, off the Northumberland coast, for the first time in two years from 25 March.

Around 200,000 seabirds, including puffins, Arctic terns, and kittiwakes make their home on the Farnes, which are run by the National Trust and are a National Nature Reserve.

At the end of March each year, the birds return to the islands to breed, departing once their chicks are fully fledged at the end of the summer.

Two years ago the colony was hit hard by avian flu, with rangers collecting more than 6,000 dead birds.

In 2022 rangers reportedly removed over 6,000 carcasses of birds from the islands due to avian flu. Credit: PA

In 2023, the disease was still present but the numbers of dead fell by around 40%, giving hope that the birds were developing some immunity.

Nevertheless, human visitors were not allowed to land on the Farnes to protect the birds and stop bird flu from being inadvertently spread.

Nature-lovers could still watch the wildlife from boat trips, but were not allowed to land, and now that restriction will be lifted next month.

Rangers will continue to monitor the islands for signs of bird flu and could restrict landings again later in the breeding season.

Sophia Jackson, area ranger for the National Trust says: “We have been closely monitoring the impact of the disease on our breeding populations as part of international research into bird flu.

“This has shown that the disease has had devastating impacts on some species and at some UK sites, making our conservation efforts all the more important.

“Like at other sites, it seems that the disease has declined in our birds, although we will continue to closely monitor them as the breeding season starts again.”

Inner Farne will be the only island to open to visitor landings this year while National Trust trials limit opening.

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