This was an intriguing visit to a very contentious destination. Belonging to Denmark, the Faroe Islands are an archipelago of 18 islands halfway between Norway and Iceland, some 320km (200 miles) NNW of Scotland. To my mind, the islands are a beautiful blend of Shetland meets Iceland; stark volcanic landscapes that although is lacking in tree cover was surprisingly green.
This visit was facilitated by Visit Faroe Islands and my flights covered by Atlantic Airways. Plus, I was visiting the islands in my guise as a member of the British Guild of Travel Writers so it was not a birding trip per se.
That said, I was looking out for birds at all times and noted several seabirds including Atlantic Puffin, Northern Fulmar, Great Black-backed Gull, Common Eider plus Rock Pipit, White Wagtail, Barnacle Goose and the ubiquitous Faroese races of Winter Wren and Common Starling. In the capital town of Tórshavn whilst birding in the Plantation, which is one of the few areas of woodland on all the islands, I also encountered Eurasian Robin, Collared Dove and heard Blackcap singing.
I did manage to briefly break away from the group of travel journalists that I was with to join up with the islands main birder – Silas Olofson. He and I got on like a house on fire and, in three short hours and in the rain, he managed to show me his local patches and wet my appetite with the sorts of species (mostly rarities) that regularly show up around the country. There will be more about all that in a later blog.
The main stumbling block for many people when it comes to visiting the Faroe Islands is the fact that the nation still engages in whaling. Annually, upwards of 800 Long-finned Pilot Whales are driven to the beaches to be slaughtered in accordance with longstanding local tradition. The meat is then distributed amongst the islanders who requested it, for free.
I do not condone this practice in anyway. I abhor whaling and indeed, any other form of unnecessary hunting from fox hunting, canned hunting in Africa and elsewhere through to the wanton destruction of migratory birds along the European flyways. Although I was subsequently criticized for partaking in this trip I stand by the notion that boycotting nations that indulge in hunting for sport or for traditional reasons is not the answer. If that were the case most of us would be traveling far less and out of principle, would have to give up citizenship of our natal countries. Simplistically, in my view encouraging eco-tourism amongst the populace of the country in question as well as promoting its wildlife internationally is the better course of action.