The Farne Islands Wildlife Experience: Exploring Northumberland, UK

Puffin Colony_Farne Islands_Northumberland_Kellie Netherwood

The coast, castles and countryside of Northumberland attract visitors all year round.  But it’s the feathered guests who return each spring that create one of the highlights of the region.

The opportunity to see a range of migratory sea birds in their breeding colonies on the Farne Islands is why bird watchers, photographers, wildlife enthusiasts and tourists head to the coastal village of Seahouses in the spring and summer months.  They are transported to the nearby islands on boat trips run by one of a handful of local operators, choosing between half day or full day trips.

I enjoyed my first experience of the Farne Islands last month and learned the sightings are endless and varied.

This may just become an annual event for me!

3 Ways to Experience the Farne Islands Wildlife

1. From the boat

Guillemot Swimming_Farne Islands_Northumberland

Boat tours to the Farne Islands, located only three miles offshore, are offered by a handful of companies operating from Seahouses harbour.  And within minutes of leaving the harbour, you will realise the boat is more than just a vessel to take you to the islands.  It is also a platform upon which to see puffins diving into the sea looking for fish, gulls floating on the water or guillemots creating a splash as they take off from the water in flight.

In the water_farne islands_northumberland+kellie netherwood

2. On the islands

Inner Farne

Farne Islands_Northumberland_Kellie Netherwood-2

There are only two islands that are available for public landings and Inner Farne is the largest and most popular.  The island is managed by the National Trust and during the summer months is home to thousands of breeding seabirds.  Well maintained platforms provide a walkway around the island, allowing you to get incredibly close to the puffins, eider ducks and terns in the middle of the island and the puffins, cormorants and shags nesting on the rocky cliffs.

But first you have to “run the Arctic tern gauntlet” and learn why the boat crew’s parting words are “put on  your hat”.

The Arctic terns nest alongside the pathway and it’s believed they are attracted to the perceived safety it provides from predatory gulls. But like any expecting or new parent, they are protective of their young and you are unlikely to make it through without a few pecks to the head.  But don’t let this put you off – the sight (or thought) of them dive bombing you is more alarming than the peck itself, which really is like a light tap on the head.  And sometimes it won’t even be a peck – they must just sit on your head instead!

Inner Farne_Farne Islands_Northumberland_Kellie Netherwood

Staple Island

Staple Island_Farne Islands_Northumberland_Kellie Netherwood-2

Staple Island is a rocky island that is more exposed to the elements than Inner Farne.  As such, conditions can sometimes prevent landings.  There are no terns on Staple Island, so you are safe from their dive bombing, but the terrain is a little more uneven.  The island provides fantastic opportunities for photographers to get close to the auks that call it home and a number of different vantage points to try and capture puffins in flight.

Staple Island_Farne Islands_Northumberland_Kellie Netherwood

3. On a sunset boat tour

Farne Islands Sunset Boat Tour_Kellie Netherwood

A sunset boat tour is not an activity you would normally associate with the unpredictable and changeable weather of North East England.  But add a landscape dotted with lighthouses and castles,  a wildlife plethora of birds and mammals and a group of islands with character, history and charm and you will understand why it can become a highlight of your day.

An evening boat cruise is a great complement to the day trips offered around and on the islands.  Not only does it give you another opportunity to get up close and personal with the region’s wildlife, it’s an opportunity to photograph them in the soft light of the ‘golden hour’ as they float on the water, fly past your boat and dive into the sea.

Serenity is the only company offering sunset tours as I write this, which means you will enjoy a tranquil end to the day on the only tourist boat on the water.  As a photographer, you will enjoy the space, agility and stability of Serenity’s catamaran.  And as a wildlife enthusiast or simply a visitor to the region, you will enjoy the seal colonies that are more active, noisy and aggressive than they are during the day.

Farne Islands Sunset Boat Tour_Northumberland_Kellie Netherwood


What You Might See

1. Birds

Puffin Colony_Farne Islands_Northumberland_Kellie Netherwood-3

The Farne Islands are home to more than twenty species of birds and whilst I certainly am not a skilled birdwatcher, even I could identify some of the most common ones that breed there during the summer months.  Puffins, terns, guillemots, eider ducks, razorbills and kittiwakes are just some of the birds you may see both in the water and on the islands.

Birds on the Farne Islands_Northumberland_Kellie Netherwood

2. Behaviour

Mating Guillemots_Farne Islands_Northumberland_Kellie Netherwood

It’s not just the opportunity to see the birds of the Farne Islands that provides a highlight of any visit, but the opportunity to watch their behaviour.  And being the breeding season, this can include building nests, hunting and bringing back food, feeding chicks and (as per the photograph above)…ummm, well….the breeding cycle has to start somewhere right?!

Bird Behaviour_Farne Islands_Northumberland_Kellie Netherwood

3. Grey Seals

Grey Seal_Farne Islands_Northumberland_Kellie Netherwood

The birds are not the only habitants of the islands and they share the region with the largest grey seal colony on the east coast of Britain.  From the safety of the boat, it’s possible to get quite close to the seals hauled out on rocks and sightings of them in the water are quite common.

Grey Seals_Farne Islands_Northumberland_Kellie Netherwood


The Farne Islands are located only three miles offshore the Northumberland Coast in north-east England.  A number of boat operators offer half or full day tours, leaving from Seahouses Harbour.  Whilst it’s possible to book in advance, you really just need to show up the day before or even the morning you want to leave and find yourself a tour to join.


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Kellie is a traveller and photographer who is most at home when exploring the world beyond it. Through the intersection of her travel, writing and photography passions, she shares her experiences to inspire others to create there own. The desire to live life instead of existing through it has introduced Kellie to inspirational locations throughout seven continents and from this a passion for landscape and wildlife photography has evolved. She feels a particular connection to the polar regions and Africa. You can see more of her photography at


  1. Great post! I didn’t know about the Farne Islands at all, I’ll have to add it to my list of places to visit.

  2. Great post – I’m thinking I could combine seeing puffins with researching my NBL ancestors near North Shields 😉

    • Sounds like a great idea Pauline. Just make sure you time it right – the puffins only visit for a few months before flying back to sea for the rest of the year. The rest of Northumberland is also worth a visit, stunning part of the country.

  3. I didn’t know about the Farne islands and haven’t actually been to that part of the country – it looks so beautiful and so many people keep telling me about the scenery around the Northumberland coast – must visit!

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