Arctic Terns abandon famous Farne Islands colony


The famous colony of Arctic Terns at Inner Farne, in Northumberland's Farne Islands, has been abandoned this summer, with a lack of vegetation management thought to blame.

Breeding Arctic Terns have long been one of the most entertaining features of the Farne Islands experience, with the pugnacious adults constantly dive-bombing visitors to Inner Farne during the breeding season and dozens of nests situated alongside the main path, allowing for close views and photo opportunities.

Yet this year Inner Farne is eerily empty, with no Arctic Terns to be seen.

Breeding Arctic Terns are one of the big attractions to visit the Farne Islands, yet mismanagement has displaced the famous Inner Farne colony this summer (Andy Mould).

Restrictions brought about by the coronavirus pandemic have meant that there are no resident wardens on the Farne Islands for the second summer running.

It is usually the wardens that clear vegetation for the terns, managing it throughout the season to ensure that there are cleared areas for the terns to breed. But with no one present to carry out such maintenance, Inner Farne has become overgrown and the terns have moved on. Another possible cause cited is that the lack of visitors means there are no deterrents on the island for opportunistic large gulls, and it's possible that these too have had an impact.

Local wildlife lovers took to social media to express their outrage, with one describing it as a "wilful lack of management" and another claiming: "It's devastating to see decades of conservation efforts wasted. The damage to the islands is now at a level which will never recover."

The National Trust, which manages the Farne Islands, responded on its NT Northumberland Coast Twitter feed, saying: "The number of Arctic Terns on Inner Farne has sadly reduced this year. Terns don't always favour one location and can move in large groups between sites. We think many have moved to the outer islands, the colony we care for at Beadnell Bay and RSPB Coquet [Island].

"Recent disease and different foraging areas may also play a part, but we expect the Arctic Terns to return to Inner Farne in the future. We're monitoring numbers and behaviour, as well as managing vegetation for more suitable nesting areas and deterring predatory gulls."

NT has not yet responded to further queries to explain its vegetation management and monitoring methods in greater detail.

The Farnes' Arctic Terns are known for their pugnacious attitude towards visitors (Morgan Stephenson).

The coronavirus pandemic has caused logistical difficulties with both visiting and managing the Farne Islands for the second summer running. Local boat operators have been unable to land on Staple Island and Inner Farne, at a time when there was already an ongoing disagreement between they and the NT over visitor booking and access arrangements, which currently remains unresolved.

The news comes amid growing concerns for the overall management of NT-owned seabird hot-spots along the Northumberland coast. One source told BirdGuides that ex-volunteers had left their roles as the NT's focus was shifting from wildlife protection to "selling memberships and promoting NT".