What we do
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.
During August-September 2011, the RSPB, in conjunction with the Pitcairn Islands Government, undertook a ground-breaking operation to restore Henderson Island. At 43km², Henderson was the largest tropical or sub-tropical island ever to be subject to a rat eradication operation, and the third largest island yet treated in the world (at that time). The project was also the first time an aerial eradication operation had been conducted from the deck of a ship, and saw Henderson rails successfully bred in captivity for the first time.
However, seven months after the 2011 eradication operation took place, a monitoring expedition confirmed that rats are unfortunately still present on Henderson Island. There is more work to do to save Henderson's unique wildlife.
The RSPB is committed to working to save the Henderson petrel from extinction. Eradicating rats from Henderson Is-land is still the best hope for this and other endemic species and to restore this isolated tropical island for all of its nature. The Henderson Island operation was ground-breaking in many aspects, and we are committed to continuing our pioneering efforts.
Mike Clarke, Chief Executive of the RSPB ‘While everyone involved in the first attempt was bitterly disappointed to learn that our efforts to eradicate rats from the island failed, we are still committed to working with the Pitcairn community to restore Henderson Island World Heritage Site and if possible, eradicate rats from the island’.
‘We are still very optimistic we can eradicate rats from Henderson and give the Henderson petrel back its home. However, we are not leaving this to chance. As with the first attempt, our approach will have a firm basis in science. There are a number of key questions out-standing, which we will investigate further. Our team will ensure that we have everything in place before going ahead with a second attempt.’
To achieve what our Chief Executive has set out, the RSPB will embark on a six month research expedition to Henderson Island from May to November 2015. This is a major undertaking that will involve two teams of eight people investigating rat ecology and aiming to identify what it will take to successfully eradicate rats and restore this once pristine island.
We need to raise at least £230,000 before this expedition can proceed. This will pay for the boat required to install the teams, the food and supplies that they will have to bring with them, equipment, research staff and all other costs associated with mounting an expedition on one of the world's most remote and isolated islands. Click here to find out more about how you can support the expedition.
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.
The endemic Henderson Lorikeet
Bristle-thighed Curlew, Henderson Island
Murphy's Petrels above Henderson Island
The endangered Henderson Petrel is only known to breed on this one island
Rat and petrel, Henderson Island
Henderson Island News: October 2015
Latest news on the Henderson Island project
Date: 29 October 2015
Henderson Island News: Issue 8
Date: 1 May 2015
Henderson Island News: Issue 6
Date: 22 July 2013
Henderson Island News: Issue 5
Date: 21 December 2011
Henderson Island News: Issue 4
Date: 29 June 2011
Henderson Island News: Issue 3
Date: 25 January 2011
Henderson Island News: Issue 2
Date: 14 September 2010
Henderson Island News: Issue 1
Date: 28 July 2010
Henderson Island FAQs
Frequently asked questions regarding the Henderson Island Restoration Project.
Date: 11 November 2010
Oeno Island monitoring: a protocol
Monitoring the population of Murphy’s petrels on Oeno atoll: a census protocol
Date: 26 October 2015
Table 1. Field sheet for recording number of petrel nests in 19 circular plots of 8 m radius
John KellyProgramme Manager - Globally Threatened SpeciesE-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
The Henderson Island Restoration project can only be successful if sufficient funding is found. If you would like to help us raise the required funds to protect and restore Henderson's unique biodiversity, you can donate using our online form or by sending a donation by post to David Agombar, RSPB, The Lodge, Sandy Bedfordshire, SG19 2DL. UK taxpayers are kindly asked to Gift Aid your donation. This will add an additional 20% to the value at no cost to you. For further information please contact David Agombar (email@example.com)
The RSPB is very grateful for all funding received to support this important programme. Due to the complex nature of the Henderson Island Restoration Programme, funding has come from many sources including private individuals. Organisations that have supported the programme to date are: