If you missed the 'Plastic Gannets' film on Autumnwatch at the end of October or would like to see it again the BBC have put it on the 'clips' page of their Autumnwatch website. Here is the link
Naturalist and wildlife TV presenter Iolo Williams accompanied us to our Grassholm reserve last month to film an item on plastic pollution for BBC Autumnwatch that was aired last week. Here Iolo tells us about his personal take on the day
Generally, a visit to Grassholm Island, a lump of rock 8 miles off the coast of Pembrokeshire, is one of life's great pleasures. Home to nearly 40,000 breeding pairs of gannets, it is an ornithological spectacle not to be missed, but in mid-October, I accompanied a team from the RSPB's Ramsey Island reserve and Exeter University on a mercy mission to free birds that had become entangled in discarded fishing nets.
For far too long, we have used the marine environment as a dumping ground for human waste. This cannot continue. For the sake of Grassholm's gannets and all marine creatures, we must act and act quickly.
As some of you might know we try and get out to our Grassholm reserve each October to cut free juvenile gannets that have become entangled in plastic marine debris that accumulates in their nests. The plastic is mainly fishing related (rope, line and netting) that is floating on the surface of the sea. Gannets mistake it for seaweed and add it to their nests. Some chicks get tangled and as they grow it tightens around their legs and tether them to the nest.
After the disappointment of not being able to land last October due to prolonged adverse weather (the first time in 9 years this has happened) it was a relief to have a short window yesterday in which to make the trip out and land safely. It was actually quite a 'good' year in that the number of birds that needed cutting free was on the low side ('only' 40) - but as usual many more than this had died already. We cannot go out any earlier as our presence in the colony would cause too much disturbance and would do more harm than good. By October the only chicks that are left are those that are tangled (with the exception of few late downy chicks).
We sometimes get asked 'why do you bother?' If we didn't carry out this work it would not impact on the population as a whole as there are 40,000 pairs nesting on Grasshom. The reason we do it are a) from an animal welfare viewpoint (the birds would slowly starve to death eventually) and b) it helps raise the ongoing issue of plastic pollution in the marine environment
To help raise awareness on this front BBC Autumnwatch accompanied us yesterday to film the event. Iolo Williams was presenting but he also got stuck in and helped us cut free some birds. The piece will be aired on the show sometimes between 28th-31st October.
Once the work is finished there is a chance to look around for other birds on the island. It is always remarkable what you find out on this tiny wind swept rock, 8 miles out in the Irish Sea. Yesterday was no exception. The highlights were firecrest and tree sparrow but there were also single redwing, snipe, merlin, song thrush, turnstone, skylark, wren and dunnock plus 3 starlings and 5 rock pipits along with large numbers of lesser black back, great black back and herring gull. In addition there was a steady steam of red admiral butterflies arriving from the west (Ireland?) and powering on towards the Welsh mainland. We logged a minimum of 50 but there were probably many more. There was also 1 painted lady and a single common carder bee.
A big thank you to this year's team who helped Lisa and myself - Iolo and Mark from the BBC, Steve and Kirsten from University of Exeter and Arnold, Henry and Tim from Venture Jet. Thanks too to Tim and Beth from Venture Jet for once again negotiating the difficult landing on Grasshom and delivering us safely (and getting us home again!)
Some of the 2014 team (L-R: Arnie, Mark, Iolo, GM, LM, Steve and Kirsten)
Unfortunately we didn't get to this chick in time. The weight of plastic around it's leg is clear to see. This bird would have starved to death after being abandoned by the parents and then unable to fledge