Farne Islands reopen to visitors two years after bird flu outbreak devastates colony

Tom Johnston was lucky enough to be one of the first to visit the Farnes since reopening.

The Farne Islands off the coast of Northumberland has reopened to visitors two years after it was closed due to an outbreak of bird flu.

Wildlife enthusiasts will once again be able to get a closer look at the thousands of birds living on the internationally-important seabird colony.

It is thought 200,000 seabirds call the Isles their home, including puffins, terns, and kittiwakes.

Human visitors have been prevented from accessing the Farnes since 2022 when an outbreak of avian flu killed at least 6,000 birds. A further 3,650 are believed to have died last year.

Experts hope the declining number of deaths within the seabird colony means the birds have developed some kind of immunity to avian flu.

One of the first visitors to the Island told ITV Tyne Tees: "I feel pretty privileged. I'm back in Northumberland for the first time in about 15 years as I've lived in Bermuda for the last 30 odd years.

"To be here is special anyway but then to realise we're one of the first people to be on the island it's extra special."

While a family said: "We've never been before so we just wanted to see a few puffins. We've been blown away by how many there are and how close they are, it's incredible."

People were very excited to see the puffins again, with one couple saying: "It's exciting, it's very exciting it's been several years, we're just looking forward to coming to here, because we know this place is the nearest place we can see the special bird- the puffins."

The first visitors in two years landed on the Inner Farne today, after scheduled landings were cancelled yesterday due to poor weather. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Now, the first migrating seabirds are beginning to return to the islands to breed. They will depart once their chicks are fully fledged, at the end of the summer.

This season visitors will only be able to access the Inner Farne Island as the National Trust, which manages the Farnes, trials the reopening.

The National Trust team of rangers clear dead birds from Staple Island, one of the Outer Group of the Farne Islands in July 2022. Credit: PA

Sophia Jackson, area ranger said: “The last two years have been really tough, but we are keeping everything crossed that the birds are starting to build natural resilience to bird flu.

"We will continue to closely monitor the birds for signs of the disease over the coming weeks, in the hope that we can remain open for the whole season.

“But the health of our precious seabirds has to be our priority, so we do have a ‘closure plan’ that we’ll implement, should bird flu return.”

Trips to the Inner Farne Island were due to be up and running again on Monday 15 March but were unable to go ahead due to poor weather conditions.

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