It is not just humans who have changed their habits as a result of the pandemic. On the Farne Islands in north-east England, seabirds have used Covid as an opportunity to try out new nesting spots while rangers and tourists stayed away.
While the absence of people has been a boon for some species, it has made life harder for others.
Rangers suspect that Arctic terns have moved to new islands partly because National Trust staff who would normally ward off seabird predators have been unable to do so due to lockdown restrictions.
Covid has meant a skeleton team has carried out core conservation work on the islands, which has seen predators such as black-headed gulls become more prevalent in some areas.
The islands, off the coast of Northumberland, reopened to visitors on 21 June after an 18-month closure.
The Farne Islands are home to around 100,000 pairs of nesting seabirds, including three species of tern, eiders, shags, puffins, razorbills, gulls and guillemots.
Rangers are keen to see how the return of tourists will affect the birds’ new habits.
“One of the fascinating consequences of not having visitors to the islands over the last year and a half has been the effect it appears to have had on wildlife,” said Harriet Reid, a Farne Islands National Trust ranger.
“While Arctic tern numbers seem to have reduced on the Inner Farnes, they have likely taken the opportunity to nest on the outer islands, including the National Trust’s colony at Beadnell Bay, other islands such as Brownsman and Staple, Lindisfarne and RSPB Coquet.
“We think this is the first time this has ever happened and could be a result of several factors including gulls changing their behaviour and the locations they frequent in response to the lack of people.”
The puffin and seabird count has taken place on the Farne Islands for more than 50 years but was only carried out in a limited format last year due to the pandemic.
This year’s puffin count is under way and early signs show they have had another good year, despite some low-lying burrows being flooded by the recent heavy rainfall.
“While the recent poor weather has destroyed some of the puffin burrows on lower parts of some islands, anecdotally it would appear as though puffins have had another positive breeding season, with many pufflings being hatched in recent weeks,” said Reid.
While the results of the annual species monitoring will not be known for some months, it appears that fulmars, kittiwakes, guillemots and shags have also fared well over the last year.
“What will be really interesting to see is the effect that the return of visitors has on seabird behaviour. It may be that we see the new sites occupied by Arctic terns again next year, coupled with their return to Inner Farne.”
This article by Helen Pidd was first published by The Guardian on 16 July 2021. Lead Image: Puffins are among the seabirds that call the Farne Islands home, along with three species of tern, eiders, shags, razorbills, gulls and guillemots. Photograph: chris2766/Getty Images/iStockphoto.
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