Frequently Asked Questions On The Farne Islands

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Farne Islands

Frequently Asked Questions As A Farne Island Warden

As with every line of public engagement work, staff are questioned about their roles by the public. One of the perks of the job is that you are paid to enthuse about this incredible life and the amazing wildlife that the islands offer. However, when you work day in day out, some of these questions can be a little bit repetitive. My idea here is to answer these questions in case you never get the chance to ask a warden yourself. Secondly, I want to make you aware of all of the questions, now that I no longer work on the islands so that the next time you visit, you can take the list with you, make sure you don’t miss any out and take bets on which warden breaks down in tears first.

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Where are the puffins?

If visiting the islands April-August the answer is very simple, everywhere! The Farnes are home to c40,000 puffins, When you consider the small amount of land mass that makes up the islands, the density in which they live there is ridiculous.

Your best opportunity to see puffins well, are on either the cliff tops, where birds often line up before flying out to fish. Alternatively, if you find a relatively flat open area, where the vegetation is made up of lower standing species such as orache and sea campion, you will often see puffins making their way into and out of their burrows.

Puffins arrive back around the islands in March/April. However, until they have eggs in burrows, birds will often disappear out to sea for a few days, especially if bad weather is forecast.

If you are visiting in August or later, although you may see small numbers on the sea, I am sad to say that most of the puffins are bobbing around the north North Sea and Atlantic far away from British land masses.

Do you really live here? How long are you here for?

A team of 10 wardens live on Inner Farne and Brownsman island from March through to late September. In October this number falls to 5 people who live exclusively on Brownsman and work within the seal colonies.

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Seal Pup in front of Brownsman Cottage

Where do you live?

Wardens living on Inner Farne occupy the 13th century Pele tower and the lighthouse. Those living on Brownsman island inhabit the old beacon house. Buildings rely on solar and generator electricity, both are erratic at best but do allow enough energy to charge phones and watch some TV.

Are you students?

Wardens on the Farnes are either employed on a paid or voluntary basis by the National Trust. although a small number of students do live on the islands for periods of the year. They deal with the seabirds and seals, and are not tasked with any visitor work or other warden responsibilities other than making tea.

Do you have showers here?

No, hence why wardens don’t always smell so great! However, both inner and outer group teams have access to small speed boats which, on a calm day, allow them to travel to the mainland to stock up on food and have showers. Whether wardens utilise these calm days is completely up to them. During the winter season when no visitor boats land on the islands and the sea is seldom calm, wardens have been known to go three weeks or more without a shower. Even the notoriously smelly seals give them a wide berth.

What are the penguin like birds covering the cliffs?

Guillemots and also maybe Razorbills. There are 50,000 of these black and white auks nesting around the cliffs of the Farne Islands.

Why do some of the Guillemots have white markings on their faces?

This is an example of dimorphism within a species. These individuals are referred to as bridled guillemots but are not considered a separate sub-species. They seem to occur more frequently within colonies the further north you go.

Why are the puffins smaller than I imagined?

Your imagination is too big.

Pufflin - Farne Islands

Why are the shags panting?

Shags pant as a means of thermoregulation as they are unable to sweat

What are the painted stones and garden canes everywhere?

The painted, numbered, stones are for monitoring. Wardens mark nests using the stones and then check on the development of the eggs/chicks. This allows the breeding success of species to be calculated.

The garden canes have two uses. Some are used similarly to the coloured stones – to mark nests within the longer grass of more elusive species such as eiders. They also can be used to disrupt flight lines of less agile predators such as gulls, which will often attempt to enter colonies to take eggs and chicks.

Farne Island Gallery

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