The problem of introduced predators to island environments is not a new one but continues to be a serious problem. Many seabird species only nest on islands as they, in theory, offer a safe breeding ground away from the threat of mainland mammalian predators. The sudden, often human induced, introduction of a predator that is alien to that environment can undo millions of years of evolution and have devastating effects.
Here on Ramsey we once had such a problem. Brown rats arrived through shipwrecks in the 1800’s and caused the extinction of puffins as a breeding species here. Manx shearwaters managed to hang on in small numbers. Following the eradication of brown rats in the winter of 1999/2000 using poison bait we have seen our shearwater numbers double and European storm petrels were confirmed as breeding for the first time on record in 2008. Still no puffins though.....
One of the latest rat eradication projects that the RSPB is involved with is that on Henderson Island in the Pitcairn Group. Lying in the south Pacific, over 3,000 miles from the nearest continent, Henderson Island is a UK Overseas Territory meaning the UK government has legal responsibility for it. Since the introduction of rats to Henderson, seabird numbers have dropped from around 5 million pairs to just 40,000 pairs today. Endemic species such as the Henderson petrel are being driven towards extinction.
The project is due to start very soon at a cost of £1.7m – fundraising has been a long and arduous task but the team involved are nearly there. You can find more details of this project here and if you would like to make a donation to the work you can do so here
RSPB Ramsey staff would like to thank one of our local St David's boat operators, Venture Jet, for making a donation to the Henderson appeal following their recent charity day whereby all the takings from the day are donated to various charities. Thanks Tim and Beth!
Wildlife presenter Iolo Williams visited Ramsey yesterday to record a programme for Radio Cymru about the natural history and farming of the island, discussing how the two go hand in hand with our conservation management out here.
The programme was recorded in Welsh so cue our Reserve Assistant, Nia Stephens and our stockman Derek Rees! They spent the afternoon with Iolo and the BBC team in glorious weather. Derek is a bit of a veteran when it comes to media work but this was only the second time out for Nia so well done to both of them. Also contributing to the programme were naturalists from the BTO, CCW and Snowdonia National Parks.
As the sun sets on another seabird breeding season (for some species at least) we can take stock of how things have gone this year. Overall a positive picture on Ramsey. Our guillemot and razorbill study plot was up by around 25% on last year which bodes well for the full seabird count in 2012. Birds were bringing in plenty of food and lots of young chicks were seen to 'jump' on calm evenings in late June. There are still a few late stragglers on the cliffs but they too will soon take the plunge. Both guillemot and razorbill young leave the nesting ledges at around 21 days old when they are only partly grown and swim off under the cover of darkness with the male bird to finish fledging in the relatively safe environment of the open ocean, as opposed to being a sitting target for a hungry gull on a cliff ledge. The female will visit the breeding ledge for the next week or so to guard the territory before heading out to sea separately herself. The pair may not meet up again until the following year when both will hopefully make it through the trials of winter and arrive back at the same bit of ledge of the same cliff face. I say 'next year' but most birds revisit the ledges briefly at various stages through the winter so they may bump into each other then if their timings coincide.
Our kittiwakes and fulmars are still busy however so there are still seabirds to see on Ramsey through the summer months. At the moment Holly Kirk from Oxford University is undertaking her annual data logging work on our Manx shearwaters. Miniature tracking devices are fitted to a small number of birds which will tell us where these birds spend the winter, which route they take and how long they spend feeding and resting on the way to South America! Holly will be working for the next 5 or 6 nights so I will update you on her findings when she is done.