Fruit and veg on the menu for Farne Islands wardens

Nunnington gardening team on the Farne Islands

Nunnington gardening team on the Farne Islands

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ALLOTMENT plots that were last used by lighthouse keepers on the Farne Islands over 100 years ago are being put back into production thanks to a team of organic gardeners from the National Trust’s Nunnington Hall in Yorkshire.

The walled garden plots on the islands of Brownsman and Inner Farne were last used between 1809 and 1909 by three lighthouse keepers and their families who lived in cottages on the islands.

No official records remain of the use of allotment plots on the Farne Islands but it is thought that Grace Darling, who lived in the cottage on Brownsman until the age of 11 in 1825, would have helped her father grow their own produce.

Nowadays, the Farne Islands are inhabited by a team of 11 National Trust rangers between the months of March and December and for the first time in over a century the Islands will once again grow produce for its hungry inhabitants.

David Steel, head ranger for the National Trust on the Farne Islands, said: “Life on the Farne Islands can be quite a challenge at times.

“We live and work together for nine months of the year, without running water or mains electricity and home comforts are few and far between.

“Our nearest shop is a boat ride away and the weather often limits when we can make trips to the mainland. To be able to open the door and pick fresh produce when we need it is a fantastic prospect.

“Being in such a remote place, we are wondering whether our allotment plots night be the most unusually located lots in the UK.”

A team of four organic garden volunteers from the Trust’s Nunnington Hall in North Yorkshire finally made it over to the Farne Islands last week having had to postpone their plans to carry out the work last month when bad weather and rough seas made it impossible to sail.

Led by head gardener Nick Fraser, they dug over the plots and removed almost three-quarters of a ton of rubble before planting an abundance of fruit and vegetables, including dwarf apple trees, blackberries, rhubarb, potatoes and onions.

Nick said: “We had to choose carefully when deciding what to plant on the Farnes. Before we made the decision we tested the soil, researched what grows well in sea air and worked out what would best withstand the extreme weather the rangers can experience on the islands.

“This is a test year, however we need to see how things survive and which plants cope with the conditions. We plan to come back every year for a day or two to make improvements and it will be a number of years before the garden is established.”

It is all part of the quest to help the rangers become more self sustainable. They are also installing a water butt and building a compost bin thanks to funding from the National Trust’s internal Greener Gardens Fund which aims to enable small scale projects to make environmental improvements to gardens in the Trust’s care.

David continued: “Thanks to the funding we’ve been able to buy everything we need to get the gardens started as well as the tools needed to maintain things.

“None of the Farne Islands rangers are gardening experts so it’s very much going to be a learning curve for us all but we’re up for the challenge, especially when the reward is our own grown produce!

“This could not have happened without the great work and support of the ‘Nunnington Four’ who made everything possible and worked so hard: Nick Frazer, Mark Gerrand-Jones, Nigel Dunn and Gary Talbot. A big thank you from the all the Farnes team! It was a job well done and something that will go a long way in improving island life.”

To keep up to date with life on the Farne Islands follow David’s blog at or follow him on Twitter @NTSteely.

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