WE have been on boat trips to the Farne Islands just off the Northumberland coast many times. In the spring and early summer the cliffs are covered with breeding sea birds: guillemots, razorbills, shags, cormorants and kittiwakes. There are estimated to be 200,000 of them, nesting on even the tiniest ledges.
Arctic terns, at the midpoint of their annual migration to and from the Antarctic, a round trip of about 31,000 miles, nest on the tops of the islands. They are aggressively protective of their eggs and young, and will dive-bomb any potential predator.
Puffins nest in burrows.
As the visitor boats approach the islands dozens of grey seals pop their heads out of the water to watch, as if the trips are laid on for their entertainment.
At low tide they haul out on the rocks.
It’s a wonderful trip, and until this year visitors were able to land on some of the islands and wander around (being advised to wear hats as protection against the terns). This summer, however, the islands were closed at the beginning of July because a large number of birds were found dead. Rangers in full hazmat have been collecting them and the total of corpses has passed the 5,000 mark, with many more presumed to have fallen into the sea.
The reason being given by the National Trust, which owns the Farnes, and the RSPB is that there is an outbreak of a type of avian flu which usually affects domestic poultry. This is also being blamed for clusters of wild bird deaths elsewhere in Britain. This is a typical newspaper article, published in the i on August 23.
It says the disease is being spread by migrating wild birds. But is this the whole truth?
Arthur Firstenberg is a campaigner who believes that electromagnetic radiation used for mobile phones is responsible for a range of ills. He is the founder of the campaign group Cellular Phone Task Force.
In an article on his group’s website he describes the devastation of a 7,000-strong breeding colony of Sandwich terns (which migrate from South African and India) on the Dutch island of Texel this summer. You can read the whole piece here, and this picture accompanies it.
The first thing that strikes me is that the dead birds look as if they have dropped from the sky. Avian flu causes birds to be unwell for some time before death and in my very limited experience unwell birds and animals tend to find shelter and hide out of sight.
I do not claim to be an expert in these matters but Firstenberg makes several interesting points in his article. Texel is on a busy waterway and 4G is used by shipping. The discovery of the first dead terns on Texel coincided with the installation of 18 new 4G antennas to two cell towers in the terns’ nesting area. Overnight these increased the number of frequencies emitted from 5 to 11. There are also a total of 105 4G antennas within seven miles aimed directly at the area.
Firstenberg asks: ‘Were Texel’s Sandwich terns already in bad shape from all the radiation they had been exposed to in the last few years? And did the sudden increase in both the number of antennas and the number of frequencies finally kill them?’
At the opposite end of the Netherlands, at Waterdunen, another colony of Sandwich terns collapsed this summer. Again the area is on a busy shipping route, with 318 4G antennas including 46 added in April, May and June.
Yet – and this is the potentially significant bit – 20 miles from Waterdunen, at a location with no more than 35 4G antennas aimed at it, two added since April, a colony of Sandwich terns thrived and raised their young. No dead birds were found.
Firstenberg records a similar situation in France, where a colony of Sandwich terns near Calais was almost wiped out at the same time as dozens of new 4G and 5G antennas were added. (Firstenberg says 4G is worse for birds as the radiation is diffused, while 5G radiation is aimed at directly at individual mobiles.) Meanwhile the largest colony in France, in a location almost free of electromagnetic radiation, had no disease this summer.
He writes: ‘According to the bird conservation organisations, bird flu is so contagious that it spreads among Sandwich terns all over Europe in a matter of days, yet it is so non-contagious that a small colony of terns 20 miles away escapes scot-free. Bird flu travels from one end of the Netherlands to the other in a few days, but not between two Dutch colonies 20 miles apart, and not between the two largest colonies in France?’
He also points out that in decades of monitoring, bird flu has never been recorded before in Sandwich terns anywhere in the world, and hitherto it has always been a winter disease, never affecting wild birds in spring and summer until this year. He agrees that PCR testing has shown the presence of a bird flu virus known as H5N1 in corpses, but questions the validity of a test which proved that a papaya fruit had Covid-19.
I tried to find out whether there are 4G towers near the Farne Islands, but this information is not easily available. I contacted Arthur Firstenberg, who told me: ‘I did look into the bird deaths on the Farne Islands. There are mobile phone masts on the islands. And they are used intensively because they lie in a heavily used deep water shipping lane (ships sailing down the North Sea from Edinburgh).’
As I say, I am not an expert, but nor are most people. I find the proliferation of these sources of radiation without any sort of consultation or information quite disturbing.
I am pleased to say that I have noticed more butterflies over the last few weeks. Two summers ago there were plenty but last year hardly a one. It was not looking great this year until recently, and on Friday for the first time in two years I saw two small tortoiseshells at the same time on one of my miniature buddleias.
Sheep of the week
This is a Whitefaced Woodland ram. It is one of the largest hill sheep and originated in the Pennines on the borders of Derbyshire and Yorkshire. Its ancestor was the Linton type of mountain sheep, now known as Blackface, with Cheviot and Merino used in its development. It was originally called the Penistone sheep after the South Yorkshire town where it was first recognised as a separate breed.
The wool is finer than that of many other hill breeds, and in the 1800s it formed a major part of the English wool supply. The population declined in the 20th century and by 1980, there were only 14 flocks of Whitefaced Woodland left. Faced with the possible disappearance of this breed, the remaining farmers established the Whitefaced Woodland Sheep Breeders Group in 1986. Since then, the breed has come back from the edge of extinction. However, while it is now quite popular in its home area, it is still listed as vulnerable with the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.
Rams are mated with smaller hill breeds to produce bigger lambs without losing any hardiness, and the breed is able to thrive on poor quality vegetation. Both ewes and rams are horned with rams having heavy spiralled horns. The tail is usually left undocked, especially in rams.
Here is a video of a laid-back chap at a show. I think this may qualify as ‘slow TV’.
You can read more about the breed at the The Whitefaced Woodland Sheep Society (at least you can if you have super-sharp eyesight – they have chosen a microscopic type face for the site).
Wheels of the week
This is a 1958 Austin Cambridge A55 Mk 1. The Cambridge was produced by the Austin Motor Company in several generations from 1954 to 1971. The A55 Cambridge was introduced In January 1957 to replace the A50. According to the owner’s details on the windscreen, it has a top speed of 70 mph and does 0-60 in 31.8 seconds with a fuel consumption of 34 mpg. It sold for £870 (£14,300 now) including taxes of £291 (£4,780).
Some 154,000 were produced before it was replaced by the Mark II, designed by Pininfarina of Turin, in 1959.
FINALLY, a reminder that reader Kathy Nel (‘linuslimmy’) is collating anecdotal evidence about bird and insect numbers, either increases or decreases (or even static). Send your comments and observations to this address: email@example.com. If you leave a comment below the line, we need a geographical location to be able to use it.