Isles of Scilly Seabird Recovery Project – an update

Isles of Scilly Seabird Recovery Project In January, Birds On The Edge reported on an exciting project to remove rats from St Agnes and Gugh in the Isles of Scilly in order to safeguard important numbers of nesting seabirds (see the article here). Since then the project has progressed nicely:

The Isles of Scilly Seabird Recovery Project has three primary and inter-linked aims:

•To reverse recent declines in seabird populations on the Isles of Scilly through removal of a non-native species (brown rat) from the islands of St Agnes and Gugh;
•To enable people living in and visiting the Isles of Scilly to learn about, take pride in, and play an active role in celebrating and conserving their seabird and wider natural heritage;
•To train and support island communities to embrace the benefits of seabird recovery, including the removal of rats, and continue to protect their heritage once the project has ended.

Looking over to Gugh. Photo courtesy of ISSRPThe islands, which are located off Cornwall, are home to breeding populations of 14 seabird species and approximately 20,000 birds. Eradication experts from the UK and New Zealand’s Wildlife Management International Limited (WMIL) will manage the poisoning of several thousand rats.

Annet seabird surveys. Photo courtesy of ISSRP“Among many challenges our seabirds face, the greatest threat on land is predation of eggs and chicks by brown rats,” said Jaclyn Pearson, Project Manager of the Isles of Scilly Seabird Recovery Project.

Elizabeth Bell, from WMIL said (see BBC Cornwall): “A period of intensive baiting will start from 8th November and most of the rats will be dead by the end of November. We’ll then target the surviving rats.”

A long-term monitoring programme will start at the beginning of 2014 to check the rodents have been eradicated from the islands. Ms Bell said all the bait stations were enclosed, tied down and were designed not to kill any other species, such as rabbits.

St Agnes from Gugh. Photo courtesy of ISSRPMs Pearson said: “The project is 25 years in length, although the project team will disband after five years, for the remaining 20 years the community will continue to protect their seabird heritage, by keeping the islands ‘rat-free’. This includes correct waste management, ensuring bio-security on boats and freight to the islands, and of course, educating all visitors to the islands to be vigilant and ‘rat on a rat'”.

“This is the largest community-based island restoration project attempted in the world to date, with 85 residents living here year round.”

The project has recruited a team of ‘seabird task force Seabird task force. Photo courtesy of ISSRPvolunteers’ and the first arrived on the islands in early November of the start of the delivery phase. They will be on St Agnes and Gugh baiting and monitoring rats for the next six months. After their induction to the project and the team, they were straight out to collect windfall apples (removing this food source away from the rats) and on to meet the community as part of an evening community talk ahead of the baiting starting. Safety protocols around the bait stations were reiterated and the WMIL team will be on call 24 hours a day.

On 12th November the local news ‘ ITV West-Country’ came to report on the  first day of baiting. They flew to the islands on the first flight of the day to capture the excitement on this important day in the project (see the video here).

Jaclyn Pearson spent this first important week of baiting with the WMIL team and the volunteers, and has been interviewing the volunteers for the local radio station to find out why they have volunteered for the project and what it means to them.  Volunteer Lyndsey Death says “I am so happy to be spending the winter on the islands gaining skills and learning about island restoration projects. The project is so well organised, I am really enjoying it.”.

Many thanks to Jaclyn Pearson for help in compiling this report. See the project’s poster here, read regular updates and sign up for the newsletter.

Sand bar from St Agnes to Gugh. Photo courtesy of ISSRP