Pests news from BPCA

10 November 2016

Rare seabird population triples on Scilly Isles thanks to investment in rodent control

A three-year rodent control project, backed by Prince Charles, has successfully resulted in the number of nesting Manx shearwaters to increase dramatically. The project, backed by Prince Charles, successfully killed off thousands of rats that eat the rare birds' eggs and chicks.

Invasive rats species arrived by ship

The popular holiday destination of Scilly has been home to the Manx shearwaters for over 4,000 years. In the 13th century, the birds were once so plentiful that there's evidence that they were used as a currency, and annual rents were paid to the Duchy of Cornwall with them.

However, by the 17th century, the island started to see a population of invasive brown rats arrive - probably via the numerous shipwrecks dotted around the coast of Scillies.

Because the Manx shearwater share the burrows of rabbits, it wasn't long before the indigenous birds' numbers dropped dramatically, due to the invasive rats feasting on their eggs and young. By 2014, there were only 24 nesting pairs of Manx shearwaters left on the Isles.

A huge investment in pest control and education

Backed by Prince Charles, a massive £750,000 was invested in a scheme to rid the isles of brown rats. The 84 islanders worked together to protect their rare wildlife.

  • Farmers cleaned out their barns and sheds
  • New sturdy refuse bins were supplied to every household on the Isle
  • Islanders started taking rubbish to their tip just once a week
  • School children on St Agnes were taught about rats and shearwaters
  • 1,000 bait boxes were utilised over three weeks, killing over 3,000 rats

Jaclyn Pearson from the RSPB managed the project. She said:

"We are thrilled that these seabirds are thriving since the rat removal. All the hard work which everyone has put into the project has been well worth it when you know that a species has been returned to a habitat which is rightfully theirs".

With the successful rodent control efforts on St Agnes and Gugh, plans are already underway to try similar schemes in the islands of Tresco, St Martin's and Bryher, if the funding can be arranged.

Numbers looking good for rare birds

The number of Shearwaters has risen to 73 nesting pairs this year - the highest numbers in living memory.

30 shearwater chicks have been spotted, and another rare species of ground-nesting seabird seems to have returned to the island. Storm petrels, the smallest seabird in the world, have taken up residence in the cracks of a local pub.

These tiny seabird were particularly vulnerable to rats feasting on their eggs and young. The Isles of Scilly is just one of two places these rare birds are found in the UK, and they hadn't been spotted in St Agnes and Gugh in living memory.

There are an estimated 280,000 Manx shearwaters left in the world, and the UK acts as a home for the large majority of them during the summer months. Every year, these birds make the annual 20,000-mile migration from South America to breed here, finding their way by star-gazing.


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