Covid shutdown leads to seabirds moving to new nesting areas on Farne Islands

The absence of rangers and visitors to the Farne Islands during the Covid pandemic is believed to have caused some seabirds to nest on new islands.

By Ian Smith
Friday, 16th July 2021, 10:58 am

It is thought that Arctic terns of Inner Farne have moved to other islands partly because National Trust staff who would normally ward off seabird predators have been unable to do so due to lockdown restrictions.

The absence of visitors is also thought to have contributed, with black headed gulls having been emboldened due to lack of human activity.

Covid has meant a skeleton team has carried out core conservation work on the islands, which has seen predators become more prevalent in some areas.

Puffins on the Farne Islands. Pictures: SWNS

The annual puffin count is also underway, and early signs show they have had another good year, despite some low-lying burrows being flooded by the recent heavy rainfall.

And with the National Trust finally able to welcome visitors back to the islands, rangers are keen to see what impact this will have on seabirds numbers in future.

National Trust ranger Harriet Reid said: “The last 18 months have been challenging for the team, and it is fantastic to be able to welcome people back to this truly remarkable place.

“One of the fascinating consequences of not having visitors to the islands over the last year and a half has been the effect it appears to have had on wildlife.

The Farne islands puffins welcome back visitors, whilst the National Trust Rangers carry out puffin count and island maintenance. July 15 2021. Picture: SWNS

“While Arctic tern numbers seem to have reduced on the Inner Farnes, they have likely taken the opportunity to nest on the outer islands, including the National Trust’s colony at Beadnell Bay, other islands such as Brownsman and Staple, Lindisfarne and RSPB Coquet.

“We think this is the first time this has ever happened and could be a result of several factors including gulls changing their behaviour and the locations they frequent in response to the lack of people.

“Having limited access to the island during 2020 and the beginning of 2021 meant we could not carry out all our conservation tasks, which may be one of the reasons the terns are nesting elsewhere this year. But we will need to carry out more work to assess other factors that might have contributed.

“However, as is often the case, nature has adapted and rather than a decrease in seabird numbers, Arctic terns have regionally increased in number but have moved to new areas and new islands in the archipelago.

Farne ranger Harriet Reid by a puffin burrow. Picture: SWNS

“While the recent poor weather has destroyed some of the puffin burrows on lower parts of some islands, anecdotally it would appear as though puffins have had another positive breeding season, with many pufflings being hatched in recent weeks.”

The puffin and seabird count has taken place on the Farne Islands for more than 50 years but was only carried out in a limited format last year due to the pandemic.

While the results of the annual species monitoring will not be known for some months, it appears that fulmars, kittiwakes, guillemots and shags have also fared well over the last year.

“What will be really interesting to see is the effect that the return of visitors has on seabird behaviour. It may be that we see the new sites occupied by Arctic terns again next year,

Puffins on the Farne Islands. Picture: SWNS

coupled with their return to Inner Farne.”

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