Former head warden looks back on 50 years of living and working on the Farne Islands

It is a landmark spring for the Farne Islands as it is 50 years since the first wardens landed to live and work on the acclaimed national nature reserve.

By Ian Smith
Friday, 2nd April 2021, 7:00 am

In 1970 Peter Hawkey became the first National Trust full-time warden/naturalist and soon after decisions were made to close the Farne Islands field study centre based on Inner Farne which housed students from Durham University and local watchers at the end of that season.

During the spring of 1971 the first seasonal National Trust wardens were employed to live and work on the islands.

A small team were taken from Seahouses by local boat operator Billy Shiel to Inner Farne where new careers and friendships were formed.

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Ex-Farnes head ranger David Steel.

Since then, each spring this cycle has been repeated and the Farne Islands have been protected, studied and visited ever since.

Ex-Farne Island head warden David Steel said: “Having seasonal staff live and work on the islands was a significant step forward as the island staff have gone on to greet thousands of visitors, protect the important wildlife and help shape the future with active conservation management

"The extra level of protection offered by having staff on the Farnes ensured conservation and protection were at the heart of all the work and many of the seabirds and seals thrived as a result.”

David went on to serve 14 years on the Farne Islands, the longest serving warden to live on the islands in the last 50 years.

David Steel, former head ranger for National Trust on the Farne Islands

He commented: “Living, breathing and working on the Farne Islands was an unique privilege and an experience I’ll never forget.

"To share your home with thousands of seabirds including over 100,000 puffins and to live amongst one of the most important Grey Seal colonies in the UK will live long in the memory.

"Some of the very best people in conservation started their careers on the Farne islands and it was such a good stamping ground for many to begin their illustrious careers.”

Whilst the Farne Islands are currently closed, the National Trust are working hard to re-open them this summer. It is exploring various options about how it can do this in the safest way, including the possibility of moving to an online booking system.

All set to head off from Seahouses harbour. Picture: David Steel

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Wardens packed up for a stint on the Farne Islands. Picture: David Steel
Unpacking on the Farne Islands. Picture: David Steel