A project to rid Scilly of rats and protect seabirds is hailed a success. By Jonny Rankin
IN A TIME beset by conservation challenges and species declines, it is easy to overlook the successes, and one of last year’s was undoubtedly the Isles of Scilly Seabird Recovery Project. Bird-wise, the UK is mainly of international importance for its seabirds. Our seabird colonies are world-beating.
In 2015, 28 Manx Shearwaters were fledged, and five Storm Petrels!
Now, thanks to the project, our conservation efforts are world-beating, too! Since 2013, the project has undertaken the largest rat removal effort anywhere in the world, removing them from the inhabited islands of St Agnes and also Gugh. It will greatly reduce the number of eggs and chicks predated. I met members of the Seabird Recovery Project the same month they confirmed Storm Petrels were breeding on St Agnes and Gugh for the first time in living memory. The team were deservedly proud and elated; the mood was infectious and there was great excitement as we inspected the nesting sites. The project is a partnership led by the RSPB but reliant upon a number of project partners and supporters. It works directly with the local community with each household hosting a bait box. After meticulous planning, the team were allowed to implement the programme from 9 November 2013. By the 30th, St Agnes and Gugh were effectively rat-free! In September 2014, the first 10 Manx Shearwater chicks were fledged, directly as a result of the eradication of the rats. In 2015, 28 Manx Shearwaters were fledged, and five Storm Petrels! To put this into context, Storm Petrels breed nowhere else in England aside from the Scilly, and Lundy is the only other English island where you’ll find Manx Shearwater breeding. As well as the target seabirds, rat removal could go on to benefit other burrow nesters such as Puffin and perhaps even Wheatear. And both the Whitetoothed Shrew and Rabbit populations on St Agnes and Gugh have increased in response to the rat eradication too. While the most inhabited island of St Mary’s marks a task too far in terms of rat removal on Scilly, a sweep of the top islands could be possible, with inhabited Bryher, Tresco and St Martin’s potentially subject to a rat removal attempt in the future. As we explored St Agnes, walking the Western Edge and Troytown Farm campsite, I saw signs explaining to campers what the haunting serenade which had kept them from sleep was – the breeding Manx Shearwaters. To return and experience camping with Manx Shearwaters is now high on my to-do list. What a way to celebrate the project’s success; watch the shearwaters rafted up in the daytime, and then hear them while lying beneath the stars.