Wildlife Review 2015

Guillemots on the Farne Islands with Longstone in the distance

The wildlife on the Farnes ranges from seals to seabirds, and rabbits to butterflies. Each year our rangers manage this special place and the wildlife that inhabit these islands. Here are a few highlights from the past twelve months.

This year the National Trust celebrated 90 years of looking after the islands, but this most auspicious of years has been a real mixed bag on the Farne Islands. Our major success story is that of the Guillemots, which had another record year as numbers hit 53,461 individuals. Numbers continue to go up and up with this species, and as recently as 2002 it was half that number - 25,498.  This is down to the Farnes being a safe haven for them to breed and the seas providing a plentiful supply of sand eels for them to feed their chicks.

The major weather events of the season were two storms that hit the islands, The first struck in early May when south-easterly winds battered the islands taking out many cliff-nesting species, however it was probably early enough in the season to allow them to re-lay eggs. The main damage was done when 31.5mm of rain fell on the 2 and 3 of July, peak time for all birds being on chicks. Puffin’s burrows were flooded, Kittiwake nests were washed clean off the cliffs and many Tern chicks died in the rain. With increasing “storminess” predicted due to effects of climate change, these events have the potential to become regular and would be a serious cause for concern.    

Despite the weather, Shags faired well, and had another encouraging year following last year’s success. In 2013 the population crashed due to a poor winter, and if they continue to have good breeding seasons we should see the population start to recover nicely. This could well be down to the fact that by the time the July storm hit, a lot of their chicks would have been big enough to survive. Productivity was 1.67 compared to the 5 year average of 1.71.

On the down-side, Arctic Terns really suffered this year. As surface feeders, they rely on calm waters to be able to feed, and this season was notably windy. This coupled with the July storm and the usual predation pressure that they face proved too much, and the number of breeding pairs dropped by 600 and productivity was just 0.21 (5 year average 0.65).

Puffins also struggled as the July storm flooded burrows and reduced productivity from 0.91 (5 year average) to just 0.46.

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.

We carried out our annual monitoring programme of the breeding birds. This year we monitored a record number of Arctic Tern nests (1332). We are also nearing the end of our seal monitoring programme, and have 1826 pups across the islands. 

We also continued with the ringing programme. Over 200 Shags were fitted with a darvik ring; a coloured ring readable in the field with and 3 letters. When we are out and about on the coast over the winter, we will look for shags with these rings and read them and then collect the data. We are trying to learn where our Shags spend their winters. Arctic Terns were also fitted with Geo-locaters which we hope to recover from them next year to discover more about their migration routes.

On 21 of November the team recorded a Surf Scoter flying over the islands. This American sea duck is rare in British waters, and it was only the second time one has been seen on the islands.

2015 was also a record breaking year for cetaceans with 157 separate sightings. 30 sightings of White-beaked Dolphin were the undoubted highlight. There was also a Basking Shark spotted from the islands.

Finally, and slightly seperate from our work with the Farnes wildlife, when the skies were clear the rangers were treated to spectacular shows of the Northern Lights from the islands early in the year. This is something to look out for in spring 2016, by which time the rangers will be back getting ready for another year caring for these special islands.