Boat tours suffer from another season of bird flu


Boat tours in Northumberland have experienced one of their quietest seasons due to the impacts of bird flu, according to skipper Michael Craig.

The famous Farne Islands in Northumberland, home to more than 200,000 seabirds, have been closed to landings since April as a control measure against avian influenza. However, boat tours around the islands to view the birds, including Puffins and Arctic Terns, and other wildlife have continued.

Mr Craig, from Billy Shiel's Boat Trips, said: "We have lost a lot of business from birdwatchers and photographers. The trips have been running all year round, but most people want to land on the islands and unfortunately we haven't been able to do that."

Billy Shiel's Boat Trips has been taking only a tenth of its usual numbers of tourists out of Seahouses harbour to view the seabird colonies on the Farne Islands (Jonathan Hutchins via Geograph).

The Farne Islands will remain closed until 2024 after the National Trust (NT) took the decision to block visitors from landing this spring due to a second consecutive season of bird flu in the seabird colonies.

More than 6,000 seabirds died of the H5N1 strain on the islands in 2023, and NT hoped that the closure would help temper the spread of the disease.

But it has also impacted boat tours, with Billy Shiel's boats carrying 10% of their usual numbers and noticing a significant drop in international tourists.

With the islands currently expected to open again next year, Mr Craig remains hopeful that business will pick up.

Mr Craig said: "We always have the thought, in the back of our head, that once the islands open up we will start to get our regular birdwatchers and photographers back. Most people who come here want to land on the islands."