Farne Islands, UK - 'Galapagos of the North'

by Robin Fuller September. 23, 2020 105 views

The Farne Islands have been called the 'Galapagos of the North'. I am lucky enough to have been to the Galapagos and, while the Farnes can't boast the diversity and evolutionary history of Galapagos, they offer the intimate experience of wildlife that make both places very special. The Farnes have the advantage that they are much more accessible to visitors, lying just 2-8 km off the UK Northumberland coast, off Bamburgh.

The Farne Islands are some 15-20 in number, depending on the tidal state. The Farnes are resistant igneous dolerite outcrops, once connected to the mainland but now left as islands by erosion of softer surrounding rocks. They are managed by the National Trust primarily as habitat for seals and many species of seabird.

This post serves as an introduction to the Farne Islands before further posts on the wildlife. This is a retrospective look at a trip to Inner Farne and Staple Island in 2016. Because of Covid-19, the Farnes have remained closed this year.

Boats lined up in Seahouses Harbour to take passengers to the Farne Islands. I travelled on Glad Tidings IV with Billy Shiel's Boat Trips - several operators work from Seahouses.

Boats lined up in Seahouses Harbour to take passengers to the Farne Islands. I travelled on Glad Tidings IV with Billy Shiel's Boat Trips - several operators work from Seahouses.

Inner Farne

Inner Farne is about 300m across. It is uninhabited but has a religious history from the year 678AD as the home of St Cuthbert, a retired Prior from Lindisfarne Priory on nearby Holy Island.

On the way to the islands we passed Farne Lighthouse on Inner Farne, built in 1811. It sits on cliffs where every ledge was occupied by breeding seabirds - a sight that held great promise for the day ahead.

On the way to the islands we passed Farne Lighthouse on Inner Farne, built in 1811. It sits on cliffs where every ledge was occupied by breeding seabirds - a sight that held great promise for the day ahead.

Landing on Inner Farne.

Landing on Inner Farne.

Much of Inner Farne is vegetated with mixed herbaceous plants on soils enriched by seabird guano. Exposed areas around the fringes are bare rock. In the distance you can see Staple Island and the Longstone Lighthouse.

Much of Inner Farne is vegetated with mixed herbaceous plants on soils enriched by seabird guano. Exposed areas around the fringes are bare rock. In the distance you can see Staple Island and the Longstone Lighthouse.

Prior Castell's Tower, built around 1500 as a defence against border raids from nearby Scotland, now houses Inner Farne's summer rangers. In this shot you can see many terns commuting between their nest sites and the fishing grounds.

Prior Castell's Tower, built around 1500 as a defence against border raids from nearby Scotland, now houses Inner Farne's summer rangers. In this shot you can see many terns commuting between their nest sites and the fishing grounds.

Looking in the opposite direction at Prior Castell's Tower, the sky is full of Puffins, also commuting between nests and fishing grounds.

Looking in the opposite direction at Prior Castell's Tower, the sky is full of Puffins, also commuting between nests and fishing grounds.

A display board on Inner Farne, July 2016, gives breeding bird statistics for 2015, the latest year for which numbers were then complete. The stats are impressive and gratifying in a world where biodiversity is widely in decline.

A display board on Inner Farne, July 2016, gives breeding bird statistics for 2015, the latest year for which numbers were then complete. The stats are impressive and gratifying in a world where biodiversity is widely in decline.

Staple Island

Staple Island is one of the Outer Group of the Farne Islands. Joined at low water to Brownsman Island, the two together are about 500m across. Although uninhabited, the island was an early monastic settlement from nearby Lindisfarne.

Landing on Staple Island - with a greeting party made up almost entirely of Puffins - you know it is going to be a good day for wildlife photography.

Landing on Staple Island - with a greeting party made up almost entirely of Puffins - you know it is going to be a good day for wildlife photography.

Large areas of Staple are rocky with a cover of encrusting lichens and a sparse grasses. Nesting areas are cordoned off the keep people away from birds. In the middle distance is Brownsman Island and beyond that the Longstone Rocks and Lighthouse.

Large areas of Staple are rocky with a cover of encrusting lichens and a sparse grasses. Nesting areas are cordoned off the keep people away from birds. In the middle distance is Brownsman Island and beyond that the Longstone Rocks and Lighthouse.

A view across Brownsman to Longstone. Puffins in the foreground use vegetated areas on Staple; Brownsman  is thronging with cliff-nesting seabirds. Longstone lighthouse is famous for the daring rescue in 1838 of shipwreck victims by the lighthouse keeper and his daughter, William and Grace Darling.

A view across Brownsman to Longstone. Puffins in the foreground use vegetated areas on Staple; Brownsman is thronging with cliff-nesting seabirds. Longstone lighthouse is famous for the daring rescue in 1838 of shipwreck victims by the lighthouse keeper and his daughter, William and Grace Darling.

A beacon tower built on Brownsman Island, 1795, remained in use until a lighthouse was built there in 1810, later  to be destroyed in a storm and replaced by the Longstone Lighthouse. The cottage is used by summer rangers.

A beacon tower built on Brownsman Island, 1795, remained in use until a lighthouse was built there in 1810, later to be destroyed in a storm and replaced by the Longstone Lighthouse. The cottage is used by summer rangers.

Puffins flying across Staple Island, carrying Sand eels back to their nests.

Puffins flying across Staple Island, carrying Sand eels back to their nests.

A panorama westward across a Guillemot colony on Staple Island. You can see the mainland in the background, 6 km away.

A panorama westward across a Guillemot colony on Staple Island. You can see the mainland in the background, 6 km away.

This has been a brief introduction to the Farne Islands to set the scene. Further posts will feature the stars of the show, namely Grey seals, Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills, three species of tern and various other seabirds, photographed in a wonderful day out on the Isands in July 2016.

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Dzmitry Samakhvalau 2 months ago

beautiful rocks

2 months ago Edited
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