Monday, 18 May 2009

Farnes, Fish, Eiders, Terns and Saints.

Last weekend was one of those fabulous times that will stay in the memory.  I was making a Radio 4 documentary on the state of seabirds and had the joy of revisiting  a seabird colony off the coast of NE Scotland near Inverness with ornithologist Bob Swann, and then onto the Farne Islands off the coast of Northumberland. The presenter was Chris Sperring.

You can see more lovely photos of the seabirds on Chris's blog - and this is one of his puffin pics.

It was very wet and rainy on Sutors Cliff near Inverness!  Thanks to Prof Sarah Wanless for taking the photo.

Me, Bob and Chris in the pouring rain.

Chris, Bob and Prof Sarah Wanless in a gun battery in the cliff

The incredibly steep path down to the seabird colony

Sutors cliff is wonderful to visit but tells a tragic tale of the decline in kittiwakes over the last 15 years.  Bob has recorded a drop for a peak of about 700 pairs to just over a hundred.  Something is going on.  

What a contrast to the day on the Farnes.  It was touch and go whether we would make it as the islands had been cut off for four days because of storms - but we did, and it was wonderful.

It was fascinating on the Farnes - and thank you to National Trust Warden David Steel for taking us round..  Seabird numbers have been causing concern for about 5 years or so now, the numbers of many species are dropping and for some like the Kittiwake, it is a dire situation.But the good news on the Farnes is that Arctic Terns are doing really well, and we saw the first egg laid this year.  This is great because they are doing so very badly in many other colonies.

Arctic Tern with fish - Chris Sperring

Climate change (more spring and summer storms), intensive fishing, warming of the seas are all playing their part in the lives of seabirds and it is a complex picture.  The birds are either failing to rear young because they can't feed them enough fish like sandeels or sprats, or adult birds are starving to death in the winter months out at sea.  Sometimes the unpredictable weather we seem to be getting now is killing the chicks and storms can literally wash nests off cliffs.

But it isn't all doom and gloom, there is a lot we can do so listen in to NATURE on Tuesday June 2nd at 11.00 am or Wednesday 3rd at 9.00 pm to hear all the ins and outs, including details of new guillemot behaviour that Sarah has observed.  The website above will take you to the Listen Again page after it has been broadcast on the 3rd.

I was very interested to find out that St Cuthbert lived on the main Inner Farne Island and he was famous not only for his piety but for introducing laws to protect the seabirds that must have been all around him in the spring and summer.  He is thought of as the first conservationist, and eiders are called cuddy ducks in Northumberland in his honour.  Nice story.

St Cuthbert's chapel on the Farnes.

Male eider on the Farnes - thanks Chris for photo.

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