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

- WORDS & PHOTOGRAPH­Y PAUL STERRY

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.

 ??  ?? Lundy’s coastal cliffs were once famed for their seabird colonies and, if all goes according to plan, their fortunes will be restored in decades to come
Lundy’s coastal cliffs were once famed for their seabird colonies and, if all goes according to plan, their fortunes will be restored in decades to come
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 ??  ?? Lundy’s Puffins have also been winners in the rat-eradicatio­n stakes with a breeding population that is rising steadily year by year
Lundy’s Puffins have also been winners in the rat-eradicatio­n stakes with a breeding population that is rising steadily year by year
 ??  ?? A Sky Lark singing from one of Lundy’s granite stone walls. Like Wheatears, ground nesting birds like this have benefited greatly from the removal of predatory rodents, as have the flowering plants
A Sky Lark singing from one of Lundy’s granite stone walls. Like Wheatears, ground nesting birds like this have benefited greatly from the removal of predatory rodents, as have the flowering plants
 ??  ?? Prior to rat-eradicatio­n, Wheatear nesting success was paltry on Lundy. Today, the population numbers in three figures, which must be one of the highest breeding densities in Britain
Prior to rat-eradicatio­n, Wheatear nesting success was paltry on Lundy. Today, the population numbers in three figures, which must be one of the highest breeding densities in Britain
 ??  ?? Manx Shearwater­s spend their UK days at sea and only return to land under cover of darkness. At dusk, birds can be seen gathering in large ‘rafts’ off Lundy’s west coast
Manx Shearwater­s spend their UK days at sea and only return to land under cover of darkness. At dusk, birds can be seen gathering in large ‘rafts’ off Lundy’s west coast
 ??  ?? Consummate fliers, Manx Shearwater­s are capable of sustained gliding, with the contrast between the dark upperside and white underside revealed as birds bank and manoeuvre
Consummate fliers, Manx Shearwater­s are capable of sustained gliding, with the contrast between the dark upperside and white underside revealed as birds bank and manoeuvre

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