SEABIRD SAVIOURS

A pro­ject to rid Scilly of rats and pro­tect seabirds is hailed a suc­cess. By Jonny Rankin

Bird Watching (UK) - - News Wire -

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.

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