Wednesday, 2 December 2015

The Farne Islands Roundup

This year the National Trust celebrated 90 years of looking after the Farne Islands and as the rangers prepare to leave their island home for the winter season, here is a quick look at the highs and lows of 2015.

The major success story has been that of the Guillemots, which had another record year as numbers hit 53,461 individuals. The Farnes is a safe haven for them to breed and the surrounding sea provides a plentiful supply of sand eels for them to feed their chicks. Numbers continue to go up and up with this species, and as recently as 2002 it was half that number (25,498)! Shags also faired well. Following poor weather in 2013 the population crashed, but they have experienced two good breeding seasons since and  we should see the population start to recover nicely. This year productivity was 1.67 chicks fledged per breeding pair, compared to the 5 year mean of 1.71.

A bazaar of Guillemots                                                                © Chris Lockyer

The ringing programme continued this year with over 200 Shags being fitted with a darvik ring; a coloured ring readable in the field featuring 3 letters. If you are out and about on the North East coast this winter and spot a Shag with one of these rings please send us the data! We are trying to learn where our Shags spend their winters.

It’s not all about seabirds. Pied Wagtails and Swallows had record years, with 9 recorded Pied Wagtail nests and 11 Swallow nests. The swallows have now taken up residence in St Cuthbert’s chapel, our visitor centre, two store rooms and the Longstone Lighthouse.

Puffins                                                                                   © Ed Tooth

Sadly it wasn’t good news for all species this year. It was a notably windy season and the islands were battered by two major storms. The main damage was done when 31.5mm of rain fell over two days in early July, when most of the islands breeding species were sitting on chicks. Puffin burrows were flooded, Kittiwake nests were washed clean off the cliffs and many Tern chicks died in the rain. Puffin productivity fell from 0.91 chicks fledged per breeding pair (5 year mean) to just 0.46. Arctic Terns  also suffered. As surface feeders they rely on calm waters to be able to feed, and this coupled with the usual predation pressure they face proved too much, and productivity was just 0.21 chicks fledged per breeding pair (5 year mean 0.65).

The team on the islands battled through the weather to carry out their annual monitoring programme. This year a record number of Arctic Tern nests (1332) were monitored. Arctic Terns were also fitted with Geo-locaters, which we hope to recover from them next year to discover more about their migration routes. The seal monitoring programme is still ongoing and the rangers are hoping to reach 1800 pups by the end of December. 

Arctic Tern and chick                                   © Chris Lockyer
It was a brilliant year for cetaceans with 157 separate sightings. A basking shark and 30 sightings of White-beaked Dolphin were the undoubted highlights. The sighting of a Surf Scoter flying over the islands was another highpoint. This American sea duck is rare in British waters, and it was only the second time one has been seen on the islands.

The rangers are getting ready to shut the islands down for the winter season. The Zodiac boats are sent for their annual service on the mainland, machinery goes in for repair and the ranger team enjoy a well deserved rest before they start preparations for the 2016 season. 

Special thanks to Ed Tooth and Chris Lockyer for image permissions

Thursday, 29 October 2015

'Dicing with death' on the Farne Islands

The breeding birds are long gone but there is still plenty to do for the team on the Farne Islands. As they prepare to close the Islands to visitors for the winter season, the rangers are adjusting to exciting yet potentially hazardous seal pup monitoring. Lana, one of the Islands rangers lets us know how the team are getting on. 
'I am happy to report that there have been very few close calls so far and all our limbs are still intact however the phrase ‘dicing with death’ does come to mind when dealing with some of the more possessed pinnipeds. The process involves five or more of the rangers covering the islands counting the already sprayed pups and searching for unmarked pups.  When an unmarked pup is found three rangers distract the females whilst the sprayer dyes the pup’s tail being careful to avoid the pup’s eyes.  Spraying expeditions are carried out every four days to ensure we don’t become overwhelmed by new births and that we don’t compromise the welfare of the pups by causing a detrimental amount of disturbance.  So far we have sprayed approximately 60 pups in a range of dye colours.'

Day old seal pup on Staple Island.                                                                                  ©Tom Hibbert

'As well as seals to entertain us we’ve been kept busy counting the migratory birds that use the Farnes as a much needed rest stop.  In the last couple of weeks we’ve had good passage of Thrush (Blackbird, Song thrush, Redwing and Fieldfare) heading through, with numbers of Redwing and Fieldfare hitting the thousands (1197 and 1321 respectively), as well as an impressive count of 148 Brambling. 2015 has also been a good year for Short-eared owl sightings with a peak count of 8 (possibly more!) on the 16th Oct.  This matches the record count of 8 on 13th Oct 2011 for this lovely bird.  During this time we had a large influx of Goldcrests with up to 60 birds counted on one day.    We had great views of these trusting little birds, the highlight being a group of 5 cuddling up together to keep warm whilst roosting in a Greater Burdock.  Last, but by no means the least was a lovely surprise in the form of a Dusky Warbler on the 16th, representing the 8th record for the islands and making it two years on the trot for this lovely little “Sibe” warbler.  Good views were had by all.

This time of year also sees us carrying out lots of maintenance work that couldn’t be done during the breeding season.  We have just had 3 tons of wood delivered to Inner Farne to carry out important boardwalk repairs. On the habitat management side of things, lots of strimming and nettle removal has been carried out in preparation of the breeding birds returning next year.  We hope that by opening up areas formerly taken over by nettle we can create additional nesting areas for Sandwich, Common and Arctic who require a short sward height to nest successfully.'

3 tons of wood being transported over to the islands!                                                                  ©Ed Tooth
'After our last opening day on 1st November, the next few weeks will see us replacing large sections of the boardwalk in preparation for next seasons visitors.  Seal pup monitoring will hit its peak in the first couple of weeks in November so it will be all hands on deck for the ranger team!  Watch this space for further updates on how the seal season progresses.'

Friday, 16 October 2015

The Long Nanny Breeding Season

Winter seems to be upon us here on the coast and as we welcome the arrival of our wintering birds, the ranger team have been reflecting on the summer breeding season.

The Terns that breed on the Long Nanny site near Beadnell had a difficult season. After the first egg was laid on the 18th of May, unseasonable weather, strong tides and a good number of predators led to heavy losses for some species. The stoat and her kittens were the dominant predator, remaining throughout the season and causing breeding Terns to abandon entire areas of the site despite the rangers’ best efforts to protect them.

© National Trust

Arctic Terns had a tough year, raising only 40-50 fledglings. This may have contributed to the dramatic inter-species conflict that occurred between Little Terns and Arctic Terns; with Arctic Terns observed attacking and killing Little Tern chicks; most likely resulting from the loss of their own broods.

Despite this the 27 pairs of Little Terns were successful in fledging a minimum of 14 chicks and Ringed Plovers, who also breed on the Long Nanny spit, raised between 12 and 17 fledglings.

© National Trust
The site was finally collapsed on the 3rd August assisted by a willing team of volunteers helping to bring in hundreds of metres of rope and electric fencing that had been protecting the Terns while they had been breeding on the beach. After a few days, the only signs that we were ever there is the hut, which remains throughout the winter, and the bare patches in the dunes where the rangers’ tents were pitched.

© Jane Lancaster

We would like to say a massive thank you to the team of rangers and volunteers who were essential in the protection of these delicate birds as they monitored the site 24/7, working in all weathers. The rangers also welcomed visitors to the site, answering questions and pointing out the different breeding bird species. They were also instrumental in informing beach-goers about the reason for the restricted access at certain points on the beach (reinforced with fencing and signs) and to explain to dog-walkers the importance of keeping their dog at heel or on the lead when near the terns.

© Victoria Knight

The National Trust’s Long Nanny Tern site is part of the EU LIFE Little Tern project, which is a partnership of organisations working together to ensure the Little Tern’s long-term future! Although our Terns have finished breeding and left for their wintering grounds, if you are interested in volunteering with us next year to protect these special birds please email the National Trust:

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

The Nation's Ode to the Coast

The Nation’s Ode to the Coast has been unveiled, a poem written for the nation with verses inspired by the public’s memories of what makes our coast so special. The British public helped Dr. John Cooper Clarke finish the nation's poem by sharing over 11,500 contributions of why they #love the coast.

The National Trust’s Neptune Coastline campaign is one of the longest running environmental campaigns in Western Europe and has resulted in the charity managing 775 miles of coast, equating to almost 10% of England, Wales and Northern Ireland’s coastline.

Friday, 2 October 2015

First seal pup of the season

The first seal pup of the year has been born on the Farne Islands, marking the start of this year’s annual seal count by the Islands’ resident Rangers. 

© National Trust

Every year, over 1500 pups are born on the islands, which is one of the largest Atlantic grey seal colonies in England with a population estimated at 5000

The breeding season for seals on the Farnes sometimes starts as early as mid-September with the majority of pups being born in October and November. Although the pups can swim at an early age they don’t normally leave the breeding colony until they have been weaned and moulted their white coats.

© National Trust

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Low Newton BioBlitz 2015

On the 21 and 22 August, the Northumberland Coast ranger team hosted the first ever Low Newton BioBlitz. For 24 hours an amazing team of volunteers, recorders and members of the public raced to count as many species as possible in the Low Newton area.

Divers searched the seabed, fishermen emptied their lobster pots and volunteers worked through the night to survey bat, moth and small mammal species. From rockpools to woodland to sand dunes, species lists were created from all the different habitats in the area.

                                                                                                 © National Trust

Since then, with the help of the Environmental Records Information Centre North East and volunteer recorders, the ranger team have been busy collating the data and the results are finally in, along with hundreds of brilliant photos.
Larinioides cornuta                    © Paula Lightfoot
Over 939 individual records were handed in, creating a whopping final count of 554 species. Among these were 70 bird species, 142 flowering plants,16 species of fish.

This Grey Chi moth was one of the 100 moth species found.

© National Trust
A green shore crab shedding its shell was found in the rockpools along with 12 other crustacean species.
© National Trust

Common shrews a bank vole and this water shrew were all discovered in the small mammal traps.

© National Trust

The ranger team would like to say a massive thank you to everyone that took part and helped to make the event a success. The data collected plays an important role in mapping species distribution and is vital to informing our conservation work on the coast.

We even found a lobster in the rockpools!                                         © National Trust

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Butterflies at the Long Nanny

The Long Nanny reserve is not just an amazing place because of its nesting Terns; but also for its incredible sand dune system.  Teeming with wild flowers and the pollinators that feed upon them, it's well worth an explore!

© Vicky Knight

This year, the ranger team have spotted 14 different species of butterfly on site.  With 3/4 of the 59 species in the UK declining, the Long Nanny reserve is an important habitat for these beautiful insects.

Butterflies are recognised by the government as indicators of biodiversity.  Their fragility makes them quick to react to change so their struggle to survive is a serious warning about our environment.

Assistant Ranger Vicky Knight has been monitoring the Long Nanny site this summer. "My favourite and probably most common butterfly on this site is the Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus)." she says. "In the butterfly family Lycaenidae (or the blues), around 50% of all species are associated in some way with ants.  This relationship varies between species, ranging from loosely and unspecific to strictly obligate.  With Common Blue butterflies, the larvae secrete nutritious droplets from a specialized gland which ants feed upon.  In return the ants protect the larvae from parasites and predators.

© Vicky Knight

"Another welcome visitor to the site is the Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui), one of our largest species.  A very powerful flyer, the Painted Lady is well known for its ability to migrate great distances.  They fly between 500m and 1km up in the sky during migration and can reach a speed of 30mph.  Over a series of steps by up to six successive generations, this species undertakes a 9000 mile round trip from tropical Africa to the Arctic circle- almost double the length of the famous Monarch butterfly in North America.

© Vicky Knight

"Another of my favourites is the Dark Green Fritillary.  The most widespread fritillary in the UK and found in huge numbers at the Long Nanny reserve.  It is a very powerful flyer, being able to live in windy coastal habitats.  Its larva feed upon the Common dog-violet (Viola riviniana) which is plentiful on site.  Thistles are a favourite nectar source- often seeing two or three Dark Green Fritillaries feeding off one flower."

© Vicky Knight

Help Butterfly Conservation get a better understanding of butterfly populations and distributions in your area by taking part in the Big Butterfly Count.  It has all ready started and needs as many people as possible to take part.  Visit for more information.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Life at the Long Nanny Tern Site

Here is a recent video of what life is like for our rangers at the Long Nanny Tern site near Beadnell, and why the site is so special. 

© National Trust

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Conservation On Chapel Woodwork

Our Conservator John Wynn-Griffiths, talks about one of the ongoing challenges the sea environment causes on the Farne Islands and our need to undertake some remedial conservation works.
© The National Trust

"One of our conservation tasks this year is looking in more detail at the woodwork in St Cuthbert’s Chapel on the Inner Farne. This is the suprising home of some important panelling and pews. Originally made for Durham Cathedral in the 17th century, they were moved to the island in the late 19th century as part of a restoration of the Chapel. When you walk in from the brightness outside, it takes a while for your eyes to adjust to the gloom inside the Chapel. When you can see properly the Gothic woodwork is a complete surprise.

© The National Trust

"It's when you look carefully you start to spot the problems. The iron nails holding decorative bits in place have rusted through and these bits are dropping off, to be carefully stored of course. Damp is beginning to show on the pew backs. As always with such projects, things are not straightforward. Damp is always going to be a chronic problem in a small unheated Chapel on a small island off the North East coast. And of course the island has limited electricity so easy solutions are out.

© The National Trust

"Towards the end of last month I brought several of the National Trust’s expert advisers across from the mainland in a small boat to visit the Chapel. This was the first time we have brought together the Trust’s experts to try to find a solution to some of the Chapel's conservation challenges. And with such an unusual building we will need to come up with something equally unusual."

John will be updating with progress on this project over the coming months