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Farne Islands

Puffin with Sandeels
Atlantic Puffin Fratercula arctica ©Keith Reeder Website

Birding The Farne Islands

The Farne Islands are a group of islands off the coast of Northumberland, England. There are between 15 and 20 islands depending on the state of the tide. They are scattered about 1.5 to 4.75 miles from the mainland and are divided into the Inner Group and the Outer Group. The main islands in the Inner Group are Inner Farne, Knoxes Reef and the East and West Wideopens (all joined together at a very low tide) and (somewhat separated) the Megstone; the main islands in the Outer Group are Staple Island, the Brownsman, North and South Wamses, Big Harcar and the Longstone. The two groups are separated by Staple Sound. The highest point, on Inner Farne, is just 62 feet above sea level.

This uninhabited group of rocky islets were declared Britain’s first Nature Reserve by St Cuthbert in the 7th century. They remain under the protection of the National Trust.

In the warmer months this important wildlife habitat, is much-visited by boat trips from Seahouses, which are licensed to land passengers on Inner Farne, Staple Island and the Longstone; landing on other islands is prohibited to protect the wildlife. At the right time of year, many puffins can be seen and these are very popular with visitors; on the Inner Farne, the Arctic terns nest close to the path and will attack visitors who come too close (visitors are strongly advised to wear hats). Some of the islands also support a population of rabbits, which were introduced as a source of meat and have since gone wild. The rabbit and puffin populations use the same burrows at different times, the puffins being strong enough (with a vicious bite) to evict the rabbits from the burrows during the nesting season. The islands also hold a notable colony of about 6,000 grey seals, with several hundred pups born every year in September–November.

Little can prepare the birder, who may have hung precariously over cliff edges to photograph Britain’s auks, for the landing on Staple Island. Here you find yourself surrounded by Guillemots, Puffins, Kittiwakes and Shag and they don’t take flight as you all but brush past them.

There are no rare birds here but the visitor can approach the birds so closely, and they are present in such concentrations, that a visit to these Isles will remain an unforgettable experience. For intimate bird photography the islands are incomparable in Britain.

Landing on Inner Farne is a different experience, here thousands of terns: Arctic, Common, Sandwich and Roseate nest. And some nest right next to the boardwalk. These elegant birds expend a great deal of energy mobbing everyone who walks past them. On sunny days you are dive-bombed from out of the sun which makes photography something of a challenge; this cannot be said of the birds of Staple Island. The auks and other seabirds can also be seen here, but it is the terns one comes to see.


Currently there are half day trips to Staple Island from Seahouses in the mornings and to Inner Farne in the afternoon. Both trips tour the other islands and allow a close approach to the Grey Seals. These trips give you an hour ashore.

There are whole day trips on which both islands are visited – these are crowded with about 60 folk per boat compared to the dozen or so on the half day excursions. There are also non-landing visits to the island group.


Peter Turner

Birmingham, UK


County Recorder

Tim Dean

2 Knocklaw Park, Rothbury, Northumberland NE65 7PW

01669 621460


Useful Reading

Wildlife of the Farne Islands: A Guide to All the Major Breeding Species

By Kaleel Zibe | Kaleel Zibe Photography | 2011 | Paperback | 160 pages, colour & b/w photos |

ISBN: 9780956929600

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Useful Information

Farne Islands

Loads of background info…


Abbreviations Key: See the appropriate Continent Page (or Country Page of those used on country sub-divisions)

Farne Islands


Satellite View

Rocky islands, habitat for seals and many species of seabird

Farne Islands Bird Sanctuary


Satellite View

In 1999 there were 182 species of birds recorded at the Farne Islands. Of these there were 22 species which bred here and a further 160 species were noted as 'birds of passage'…

Farne Islands IBA


Satellite View

A group of islands and rock stacks lying between 2 km and 6 km off the Northumberland coast at Bamburgh. Vegetation is limited to pioneer species due to the maritime conditions and the impact of large numbers of seabirds…

Guides & Tour Operators

Click on WAND for tours, guides, lodges and more…

Serenity Farne Island Boat Tours

Boat Trips

A variety of flexible trips to and around the islands. Andrew Douglas is a passionate birder and photographer, who often goes the extra mile (often literally!) to show guests spectacular sightings....

Trip Reports

Click on WAND for tours, guides, lodges and more…


Trip Report Repository

CloudBirders was created by a group of Belgian world birding enthusiasts and went live on 21st of March 2013. They provide a large and growing database of birding trip reports, complemented with extensive search, voting and statistical features.

2002 [06 June] - Graham Mee - The Great Seabird Break - The Farne Islands


Ever since watching a Bill Oddie programme on the Farne Islands, I have had an ambition to have a trip to these islands during the main breeding season to witness first hand this amazing spectacle. At the beginning of the year it became apparent that I was going to allowed leave at the end of May to make this possible. Having studied my road map to find the best route, I was quickly dismayed to find that I was on page eight following the A1 from Southend and still hadn`t reached the area! I then decided to take a different approach and consulted the Go Airways website. I had soon booked a flight on-line for £34.00 return to Edinburgh!

Harry Fuller


Lying off the north-east coast of England, the Farne Islands form a National Nature Reserve owned by the National Trust, famous for breeding seabirds and terns in particular. There are ten larger islands and numerous smaller reefs and rocks. Vegetation is sparse on some islands, others have thick grass with Silverweed, Brambles and Thrift. Breeding species usually number a little over twenty but a much wider range occurs on passage with more than 150 species recorded annually…

Places to Stay

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Beach House Hotel - Seahouses


The Beach House Hotel is family run, and is praised for its relaxed home from home atmosphere, which the new found owners Malcolm and Hazel have striven to create. In its idealic location the hotel is set back from one of the most beautiful stretches of heritage coastline that Northumberland has to offer. The golden sands stretch to the neighbouring village of Bamburgh, where one of the most magnificent castles in England can be explored. The lounge, dining room and bar boast panoramic views of the Farne Islands, situated 3 miles out to sea. The Farnes are now a nature reserve, which are home to a large seal colony, and many different species of seabirds including Puffins, Cormorants and Oyster Catchers.

Springhill Farm Holiday Accommodation - Seahouses


Springhill Farm is situated within miles of beautiful countryside, and is a haven to some of the most breathtaking beaches on the Northumberland Heritage Coastline. With the nearby fishing village of Seahouses providing a perfect gateway to the Fame Islands nature reserve…


Farne Photo

Photo Blog

A behind the scenes view of life on the Farne Islands, as seen by National Trust wardens…

Serenity - Andrew Douglas


Serenity Farne Island Boat Tours run guided wildlife and sailing daily from the North Northumberland village of Seahouses into the waters surrounding the Farne Islands. From our two boats we can offer the very best visitor experience to these incredible islands with their abundant wildlife, long history and folk-lore. We can be contacted by telephone Daytime harbour booking office: 01665 721667 or (Evening): 01665 720760 or my mobile is 07984668093 and ask for Andrew. Or email me at info@farneislandtours.co.uk

Other Links

Birdlife of the Farne Islands


Here we set out to try and give the reader some idea of the birds that a visitor to the Farne Islands may see at the height of the breeding season which runs approximately between the April and the middle of July each year…

Farne Islands: birds, birds, birds


In the far north east of England, a few miles off the coast of Northumberland lie the Farne Islands. The islands have a history of saints with a reclusive life style and heroes rescuing the survivors of ship wrecks. Nowadays, however, they are famous for their sea bird and seal colonies…