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The Isles of Scilly Seabird Recovery Project winter operation gets underway

Last modified: 08 November 2013

Manx shearwater skimming the waves

Image: Steve Round

A pioneering project that is the largest community-based island restoration project to date is today fully underway.

The Isles of Scilly Seabird Recovery Project aims to protect seabirds in Scilly by keeping the islands of St Agnes and Gugh ‘rat-free’ for at least 25 years. The UK is internationally important for seabirds, but many species are declining in numbers. Among many challenges they face, the greatest threat on land is predation of eggs and chicks by brown rats. Of the rich array of seabirds nesting in Scilly, two are likely to benefit from the project the most: Manx shearwater and storm petrel. 

Arriving from New Zealand this autumn, island restoration specialists Wildlife Management International Limited (WMIL) have been contracted to carry out the key rat-baiting phase of the project which is due to last until March. They have worldwide experience of reversing the decline of vulnerable seabird species by removing brown rats which have been accidently introduced to islands. The rats colonised Scilly from shipwrecks in the 18th century.

Although St Agnes and Gugh are smaller than many of the other islands which have carried out restoration projects, the 85 residents who live there all year round sets this project apart. Similar populated islands worldwide hope to learn from this project and carry out similar work to safeguard their seabirds.  The local community has been involved in the project since its inception.

Resident, Christine Hicks from Westward Farm, St Agnes said: “This project will not only benefit our local wildlife but our farm and livestock too. The community is at one with the project so today is an important day, we look forward to assisting in any way we can”.

Project Manager, Jaclyn Pearson, said: “This really is a big day, for the community and the project team and also for the seabirds that return to the islands in spring. We are so happy to have Wildlife Management International and their team of six volunteers here. There is definitely a real buzz on the islands.  The community has spent the summer gearing up to be ‘rat-free ready.’ This has meant having beach cleans and a special ‘apple day’ clearing and juicing apples to remove this food source for rats. It has also meant burning waste wood, not only in the run-up to bonfire night, but in order to remove items that could harbor rats.  There’s been great community spirit as part of this project and today feels very positive indeed.”

Senior Ecologist Elizabeth (Biz) Bell, from Wildlife Management International, said: ‘It’s really great to be here to get the Seabird Recovery Project underway. The community has been patiently waiting for this implementation phase and working hard getting the island ready for our arrival. Now it’s our turn to get out there and complete the rat removal phase of this important restoration project. We’re all really looking forward to being part and parcel of the community for the winter.’

This is a partnership project between RSPB, Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust, Isles of Scilly Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Natural England and Duchy of Cornwall. The project is funded by LIFE, the EU’s programme for financing key environmental schemes across the continent and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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