The wildfowling wonders of Lindisfarne


Perched high on the east coast shoulder of Northumberland lies the wild and remote Lindisfarne, an ancient land steeped in history and tradition. 

Twice a day without fail the tide rolls in, covering the causeway, mudflats, and saltmarsh, holding back the cars, and lifting the thousands of visiting birds. This is a land where tides exert control over visitors of all species. 

With 3,500 hectares of saltmarsh, mudflats and dunes Lindisfarne offers a truly unique experience of being fully immersed in nature. BASC’s Lindisfarne warden Shaun McWilliams describes what it is that makes wildfowling on Lindisfarne so special.


No experience quite like it

As the summer haze fades away revealing the clarity of September light, the great migrations begin, subtly at first, with perhaps 300 wigeon dropping in, then as the moon brightens in the autumnal sky, they come in their thousands. Great packs of wigeon, strong and wild, abandoning their breeding grounds in the north, driven on by an ancestral instinct, they have come to feed on the abundant zostera, or eel grass, which has flourished in the bay throughout the summer months. 

Shortly thereafter, a strong northerly wind will bring down the clamouring skeins of grey geese, the pink-foot mainly, they too have come in chevrons hundreds strong. Their clamouring calls stirring the soul and awakening the primeval part that resides in us all.

For the wildfowler, there is no experience quite like it. Having checked the weather, tides, and maps, rising early, well before sunrise, with minimal disturbance they move quietly into position, walking towards the mudflats and finding a creek bank to rest against, settling down to await the coming dawn. 

The tide is out, and the mudflats start to shine as the sunrise creeps forward, backlighting the castle on the Holy Island. This is a rare opportunity in the modern world to truly be in the moment, to listen to the bay waking up, to hear the calls of the wildfowl against the distant breakers, to pit one’s wits against a truly wild quarry and follow a tradition hundreds of years old.

Not every outing is successful, wild duck and geese are wary, but the wildfowler never comes away empty handed. To experience a winter’s dawn, to hear skeins of geese lifting in their thousands, to see rafts of wigeon riding the tide, there is wonder in the experience, a few sustainably harvested birds a welcome bonus. 


Wildfowling permit scheme

Every season 200 permits are made available by Natural England to allow wildfowling to take place on the Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve. The permits are issued under strict conditions with an employed Warden to oversee the scheme. The agreement between Natural England and BASC allows for fantastic wildfowling opportunities at an exceedingly reasonable price.

The scheme is also available to novice and non-wildfowlers, with introductory permits allowing people to experience wildfowling alongside a guide. Lindisfarne wildfowling opportunities are included in BASC’s wildfowling permit scheme.

If you are interested in exploring wildfowling opportunities at Lindisfarne please contact Chris Wright, the BASC Wildfowling Advisor (email here), or Shaun McWilliams, the Lindisfarne Wildfowling Warden (email here). The wildfowling season runs from 1 September to 20 February.