Bird Watching (UK)
BIRDS ON THE BRINK
Each issue, the team behind Bird Photographer of the Year (BPOTY) looks at conservation issues surrounding different species from the UK and beyond, using beautiful images to inspire. This month it focuses on Lundy, rats and Manxies – killing in the name
Lundy is a rugged island located in the mouth of the Bristol Channel, its western flanks facing the full force of the Atlantic. Owned by the National Trust and leased to, and managed by, the Landmark Trust, Lundy was traditionally fêted among ornithologists for its seabirds. By the end of the 20th Century, its status was waning, in part due to Man’s exploitation of the marine environment, but also because of the impact that predatory rats were having on breeding birds.
With echoes of New Zealand, in 2002 a project began to eradicate the rodents ( both Brown and Black Rats were longestablished) and it was an antipodean team that undertook the work. The project involved the collaboration of RSPB, Natural England, the Landmark Trust and the National Trust; and was a success, with Lundy being declared ‘rat free’ after four years. Since then, bird numbers have risen steadily: in 2019 the RSPB said the population of seabirds on Lundy had tripled to 21,000 birds, with Puffins increasing from just 13 birds to 375.
Of particular interest is the Manx Shearwater, whose Lundy population has grown from 297 pairs (prior to rateradication) to 5,504 pairs in 2019. The UK has a particular global responsibility for Manx Shearwaters, because something like 80% of the world population breeds here. Of these, the vast majority breed in just a few locations in Britain and Ireland: 40% on the Scottish island of Rum, and 50% on Pembrokeshire islands including Skomer and Skokholm.
This breeding concentration makes them extremely vulnerable to local extinctions, and highlights the need to establish new colonies and reinvigorate ones like Lundy that without human intervention would most likely have faded into oblivion.
Interestingly, it is not just the seabirds that have benefited from the eradication of rats. A predictable consequence has been a dramatic increase in numbers of ground-nesting birds, such as Wheatears and Sky Larks. A perhaps unforeseen consequence has been a noticeable improvement in the quality of native vegetation and habitats, most significantly the ‘waved’ maritime heath that tops the island, away from land which is ‘farmed’. Although the observations are subjective, it seems that even the Thrift that carpets Lundy’s West Side, is doing better than ever before, as well.