After what can only be described as a ‘heart-rending’ rugby world cup semi-final in Auckland on Saturday morning, thoughts quickly returned to our annual October trip to Grassholm in the afternoon. The purpose of the trip is to cut free juvenile and adult Gannets which have become tethered by the plastic monofilament fishing line, rope and strapping that forms a large proportion of their large nests. This manmade marine debris is attractive to nest building males in the spring but can be the death of their chicks as they near fledging.
We had planned this year’s expedition for the middle of next week but with a nasty low pressure system heading in off the Atlantic, we decided to bring the trip forward by a couple of days to give us a fighting chance of landing on the island. Unfortunately, this meant that Autumnwatch presenter, Iolo Williams, was unable to join us but he sent his camera and soundman instead to capture the day’s events.
This year we were joined by two colleagues from the Marine Conservation Society, who kindly travelled to west Wales on the weekend to help us out. The importance of their work on marine rubbish and pollution is brought into stark focus by the amount of plastic on Grassholm. Our friend and research biologist Sylvie from Swansea University also come to help as did local boatman Arnold. It is important to have enough hands to help cut tangled birds free but also to have experienced volunteers who are accustomed to handling large, angry seabirds, like Gannets.
Tim, our skipper from Venturejet, landed us safely and we set about checking the island for birds in need of help. The film crew captured our work for broadcast and to raise awareness of the issue. Thankfully, it was a quiet year with 29 juvenile and adult birds cut free from the netting around their wings and legs. It would appear that in dry years like this one the number of birds caught in netting is less, in wet years the nests become loose and break up more easily which may make the plastic within them more available and therefore more likely to cause problems.
It was too late for some birds and it is always shocking to see dead birds hanging by the monofilament around their legs or bills. We always have to weigh up the pros of going earlier in October and saving more birds with the cons of the increased amount of disturbance this would cause to a busier colony at that time. But for many it is a happy ending. Over the last six years we have successfully released over 350 healthy birds from the plastic that would mean certain death without our intervention.
Then there was just a few minutes to’ bird’ the vegetated valley where the gannets do not breed. The lush tree mallow and Babington’s Orache is a great place for tired migrants to stop off and feed up. Many common birds were seen including Linnet, Song Thrush, Robin, Chiffchaff and Pied Flycatcher, but nothing more unusual to report this year.
Thank you to all our helpers on the day and to Tim and Arnold for getting us to Grassholm and back in one piece. Look out for the BBC's footage which should be appearing on Autumnwatch on 11 November 2011.
See BBC producer, Martin Aaron's blog at www.bbc.co.uk/.../plastic_nests.html
Hi , my names Steve Trewhella, I am a professional marine wildlife photographer based in Dorset, I am also an area rep for Surfers Against Sewage.
Much of my work involves marine litter , and its effects on our wildlife.
My partner is a marine biologist working with the Wildlife Trust , we both have considerable experience in wildlife rescue, we were both involved in the Napoli oil spill in 2007 .
We would both be very keen to help with Gannets next year if possible, not only to help the animals, but to photograph and film the effects marine litter has on seabirds, as these images can be hard to obtain on such a scale.
Could you please let us know who to contact if possible.
my contact details are on my website www.ukcoastalwildlife.co.uk
Hello Greg and Island Girl,
I'm not sure if you'll see this in time but it's worth a try...
I recently published a blog post about marine plastic pollution on my personal blog, and I used the image above of the deceased juvenile gannet to illustrate the impact close to home of ocean-borne plastic debris in part of the article. The piece has been picked up by an online surf publication that I contribute to called Drift (which goes out to about 60,000 readers across Europe and North America) and I wanted to ask if I could please have permission to pass on the image for publication as part of the article which will coincide with a campaign by Surfers Against Sewage about Spring beach cleans and reducing plastic consumption at source (which Steve who posted above will be heavily involved with). Did either of you take the image or would you please be able to put me in touch with the photographer so that I can ask permission please? The image will be fully credited and can be hyperlinked to the RSPB.
That sounds like excellent coverage for your story and yes of course you can pass on the image. To be honest I'm not sure which one of us actually took it so just crediting 'RSPB' will be fine. If you want me to email you the original image (which will be higher resolution) then reply to this message with your email address and I'll send it on.
cheers, Greg (RSPB Ramsey Warden)
Ah fantastic, that's great news! I called the RSPB media centre but no luck and leaving comments on this blog and the BBC one that features the Grassholm Gannets was my last ditch attempt! I'm glad that it worked. If you're able to send the original image then that'd be great, the best e-mail address is sidewaysslipping (at) hotmail(dot)com.
I'll be sure to credit the RSPB and Drift should be able to hyperlink through to the RSPB too.
As soon as it's published I'll send you a link through so that you can check it out.
Thanks very much,