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Henderson Island Restoration Project

Henderson lorikeets

Image: RSPB - Tara Proud

Situated over 3,000 miles from the nearest continent, Henderson Island (Pitcairn Group, UK Overseas Territory) is one of the most remote islands on the planet, and the world's last large limestone island still in a near-pristine condition.

Uninhabited, and with almost no human influence at all, this remote paradise is home to over 55 species found nowhere else on earth, including four unique land-birds: the Henderson fruit-dove, Henderson lorikeet, Henderson rail and Henderson reed-warbler. The island, a global stronghold of the gadfly petrel group, is also the only known breeding site of the endangered Henderson petrel - amongst the most truly oceanic of all birds.

The island's beaches, meanwhile, provide crucial nesting habitat for endangered marine turtles. Combine this with nine plant species, eight species of snail and dozens of invertebrates all endemic to this island, and it is clear that Henderson is one of the crown jewels of UK biodiversity. Indeed, it is a designated World Heritage Site, making it one of the planet's greatest natural assets.

Despite being remote and uninhabited, Henderson’s unique biodiversity is currently under threat due to the presence of introduced Pacific rats. Evidence from fieldwork has shown that 95% of petrel chicks are killed within just one week of hatching (over 25,000 chicks a year). Since petrels lay only one egg in a clutch, this level of predation is simply unsustainable.

Seabird numbers have dropped from an estimated 5 million pairs before rats arrived to just 40,000 pairs today, and the Henderson petrel is being driven towards extinction. The rats are also likely to be reducing populations of marine turtles and other wildlife on Henderson, and suppressing the vulnerable populations of Henderson fruit-dove, lorikeet and rail.

If you would like to help us remove the rats, restoring the island and saving its unique wildlife, you can donate using our online form. You can also support the project by buying one of our exclusive prints of Henderson's endemic birds by renowned wildlife artist Peter Harrison.

Project objectives

  • Prevent the extinction of the Henderson petrel (Endangered)
  • Boost populations of the four endemic landbird species (all Vulnerable)
  • Increase populations of the estimated 30+ endemic invertebrate species
  • Allow the recovery of natural flora
  • Dramatically boost seabird numbers on Henderson. Research suggests populations could increase by up to hundred-fold, creating a veritable haven for biodiversity in the middle of the Pacific.
  • Involve the Pitcairn Islanders and other key groups in saving this World Heritage Site.

Key dates so far

  • January 2008: A feasibility study commissioned by the RSPB found that eradicating rats from Henderson Island was technically feasible, though highlighted two outstanding questions which would need to be resolved before any eradication operation could proceed.
  • August-September 2009: A field expedition to Henderson, part of the OTEP-funded project 'Preparing for rat eradication on Henderson Island World Heritage Site', resolved all outstanding issues and gave the green light for an eradication project to proceed.
  • July-November 2011: Two field teams implemented a rodent eradication project on Henderson Island. At 43km2, Henderson is the largest tropical or sub-tropical island ever targeted for a rat eradication.

Work planned or underway

Seven months after the 2011 eradication operation took place, a monitoring expedition confirmed that rats are unfortunately still present on Henderson Island, albeit at greatly reduced levels. There is thus more work to do to save Henderson's unique wildlife. Initial monitoring has shown that many of Henderson's unique bird species have reproduced in great number in the near-absence of rats, providing a strong indication of the benefits which could be achieved once a total eradication is effected.

Species affected (not UK birds)

Henderson petrel, herald petrel, Murphy's petrel, Kermadec petrel, Henderson fruit-dove, Henderson lorikeet, Henderson rail, Henderson reed-warbler, fairy tern, masked booby, red-footed booby, great frigatebird, red-tailed tropicbird, brown noddy, black noddy, bristle-thighed curlew, wandering tattler.

Gallery

Video

Downloads

Henderson Island News: Issue 6

Henderson Island News: Issue 6

1.09Mb, PDF

Latest news on the Henderson Island project

Date: 22 July 2013

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Henderson Island News: Issue 5

Henderson Island News: Issue 5

1.04Mb, PDF

Latest news on the Henderson Island project

Date: 21 December 2011

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Henderson Island News: Issue 4

Henderson Island News: Issue 4

1.06Mb, PDF

Latest news on the Henderson Island project

Date: 29 June 2011

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Henderson Island News: Issue 3

Henderson Island News: Issue 3

3.47Mb, PDF

Latest news on the Henderson Island project

Date: 25 January 2011

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Henderson Island News: Issue 2

Henderson Island News: Issue 2

1.13Mb, PDF

Latest news on the Henderson Island project

Date: 14 September 2010

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Henderson Island News: Issue 1

Henderson Island News: Issue 1

1.15Mb, PDF

Latest news on the Henderson Island project

Date: 28 July 2010

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Henderson Island FAQs

Henderson Island FAQs

127Kb, PDF

Frequently asked questions regarding the Henderson Island Restoration Project.

Date: 11 November 2010

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Who to contact

John Kelly
Programme Manager - Globally Threatened Species
E-mail: john.kelly@rspb.org.uk

Partners

The RSPB works in partnership with the Pitcairn Island Community, for whose support we are extremely grateful. We also work with the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), BirdLife International, the Royal Forest & Bird Protection Society of New Zealand, Island Conservation and Dr. Michael Brooke at the University of Cambridge.

Funding

Initial feasibility studies were supported by the Overseas Territories Environment Programme (OTEP) and the David & Lucile Packard Foundation. Final preparatory work is being funded by the Packard Foundation. Support has also been received from the UK Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), BBC Wildlife Fund, JNCC Support Co., Zegrahm Expeditions, The New Zealand Society and Projects Abroad.

If you would like to help us raise the required funds to protect Henderson's unique biodiversity, you can donate using our online form, or by contacting David Agombar (david.agombar@rspb.org.uk).

NEW: A limited issue of unique Pitcairn Island stamps, showcasing the 5 endemic bird species of Henderson Island, are shortly to be released by the Pitcairn Islands Philatelic Bureau. NZD$1.00 from every purchase will be donated to the Henderson Island Restoration Project. For further details, please visit here.