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Our work on the Farne Islands

Ringing chicks on the Farne Islands, Northumberland
Ringing chicks on the Farne Islands | © National Trust Images/Joe Cornish

The National Trust ensures the future of many special places using skills and techniques not always seen by our visitors. Here you can find out more about exactly how we care for the Farne Islands in Northumberland, from repairing the boardwalks to monitoring the many species that stop by the islands to nest and feed.

Under the boardwalk

When the nesting seabirds have gone and the islands close for the winter, the important conservation work continues. Boardwalks need to be repaired and replaced; there is always painting and decorating to do; and the Chapel and Tower are shut down for the winter.

The science part

While the Farnes are of course an important visitor attraction, their status as a Marine Reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) means much of our work is dedicated to the study of this crucial habitat.

Here on the Farnes we are keen to monitor the many species that stop by to nest, feed and create such a magical spectacle. Whether it is ringing birds to track their movements, using GPS to tag seals, or simply spotting and recording rare appearances by unusual visitors, our team are always working to manage and maintain this precious environment.

Puffin season on the Farne Islands

Each year, thousands of puffins come to the Farnes to breed and raise their young. They are true seabirds and return to land only for a short period of time – generally between April and late July. The peak breeding season is in May and June. For the remainder of the year the birds fly out to sea, overwintering on the water.

Monitoring birds on the Farne Islands, Northumberland
Monitoring birds on the Farne Islands | © National Trust Images/Joe Cornish

The work of National Trust rangers

The dedicated ranger team annually spends 10 months of the year looking after the puffins and other wildlife including grey seals, Arctic terns, eider ducks, guillemots and kittiwakes.

Puffins mate for life, separating to spend the winter out at sea before returning to the islands to pair up again in the spring. Rangers take the opportunity to count how many burrows are occupied during the breeding season and when the puffins raise their young between April and late July.

How do you count puffins?

As puffins nest underground, rangers check if the numerous burrows across the islands are occupied. By looking out for signs of puffin footprints and fresh digging, they count the feathered occupants living inside the nests.

Puffin number information is fed into national data that helps monitor trends and gives an indication of what might be impacting puffin populations.
It is also important to track how well the chicks fare in the burrow. We also carry out productivity monitoring, following the fortunes of the next generation of puffins to be born on the islands each year.

Why conduct an annual puffin count survey?

Rangers have undertaken a full census every five years, but since 2018 they have monitored the population and breeding behaviour annually, as part of efforts to track change more closely and make better links to change in the wider environment.

There are many likely causes of population change. Ranger Thomas Hendry said: ‘These could include island-based factors such as seal distribution or predatory gull numbers, variation in the frequency of storms and summer rainfall as a result of climate change, or changes in population or movements of the sand eels that puffins feed on.’

Puffinwatch 2021/22

Puffin numbers declined slightly in 2021, with 36,211 Apparently Occupied Burrows. This was an increase from the previous year’s figures of 29,546 and there appears to have been some movement between islands.

Puffin in flight on the Farne Islands, Northumberland
Puffin in flight on the Farne Islands | © National Trust Images/Ian Ward

A day in the life

This time-lapse film was taken during the nest-count day on Inner Farne in 2013. You can see the Inner Group team surveying the island tops before the visitors arrive on the island at 1.30pm.

Keep an eye out for rogue curious puffins, a rising tide and the current moving through the Kettle – the channel where boats access the island.

Meet a Farne Islands ranger

Ranger Harriet Reid talks about the work involved in the puffin census and the important decisions made to help protect the seabirds at the Farne Islands. Watch this video to learn more.

Support our work

You can support the important work on the Farne Islands by visiting our shop in Seahouses or with a donation to the National Trust. As a charity, the Trust relies on supporters to help fund the work we do on the Farnes to protect this important habitat.

For more information about donating, please email Julia Guppy, Fundraising Consultant for the National Trust in the North East, or call 0191 255 8638.

Looking after the puffins

Puffins are a red-listed bird species. This means there has been a severe decline in the population of puffins over the last 25 years. Over half of the UK population is based at just a handful of sites.

By visiting the Farne Islands, you are helping to support the vital work our team undertakes to protect one of the country's most important seabird colonies. If you take any great pictures on your trip, you can share them with us on X at @NTNorthd_Coast and on Instagram @northumberlandcoastnt.

Thank you

With your ongoing support, we're able to continue our vital conservation work. Thank you for helping to protect these special places.

A small group of puffins on rocks at the Farne Islands, Northumberland


Everyone needs nature, now more than ever. Donate today and you could help people and nature to thrive at the places we care for.

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