Valley Friends Report March

From Joan Steele

” The Fantastic Farnes”

Heather opened the meeting with announcements and introduced Chris Ward, our speaker who showed us the Farne Islands on a map. They are 3 to 4 miles off the Northumbrian coast, with Berwick on Tweed being the nearest town.The Islands belong to the Nanional Trust and can be reached by boat. Trips sail from the picturesque harbour at the little village of Seahouses. It is only possible to land on two of the islands, the others are seen well from the boat. The hermit St Cuthbert lived on the Farnes for many years. Nothumberland has over 70 castles, Banburgh and Dunstanburgh are on the very impressive coastline where there are miles of sand dunes. The county flower is the Bloody Cranesbill seen along with orhers eg wild orchids, and poppie. Visitors to the islands are able to go into Longstone Lighthouse, made famous in 1838 by Grace Darling who spotted a shipwreck on a very stormy night and with her father rowed out to resue 9 sailers.

The islands are inhabited by thousands of sea birds, which have no predators. They come close to visitors who are easily able to photograph them, hence Clive had very impressive slides to illustrate his talk. The inner Farne has 22 thousand water birds nesting there the most common being Guillimots that nest on the top of the cliffs, and Razorbills that nest on the cliff face. Kittiwakes are seen but most of the year are out at sea. There are Shags which are black like Cormorants, they fish around the islands but live on the coast. They breed at various stages in the year. Puffins are the favourites, and commonest with 39,000 pairs at the last count. They nest in burrows on top of the cliffs and carry up to 62 sand eels in their beaks at a time to feed their pufflings. They are long lived, many for 18 years and oldest recorded 30 years. All the birds plus gulls, are seen on all the islands, except the Arctic Tern which lives only on the Inner Farne. June or July is nesting time when they are quite vicious and attack visitors who must wear hard hats or carry something over head eg umbrella to avoid injury. They nest on the ground and have tiny chicks. The Arctic Terns are stunning birds that fly all over the world from the Arctic to the Antarctic a distance of 56,000 miles per year and they live over 20 years, equivalent of flying to the moon and back! Many Eider ducks and ducklings live around the harbours and islands. They make nests lined with their own feathers. In Iceland an eider duck quilt could cost up to 5,000. The Eider Drake is lazy and takes no part in rearing the ducklings.

Chris answered questions about National Trust full time and seasonal volenteers on the islands and boats etc. and was thanked by Heather for a most interesting evening.

Our next meeting is on April 4th when Annette Abraminko’s subject is “Coping with MS”. All Welcome.