Tristan da Cunha Programme

UK Overseas Territories are scattered across the globe, but that which is most important for birds is probably the Tristan da Cunha island group, which includes earth's most remote inhabited island

Wandering albatross

Overview

As well as around 300 islanders, this mountainous island group is home to millions of pairs of seabirds, and several unique land birds. It includes the World Heritage Site of Gough and Inaccessible Islands: Gough is arguably one of the most important seabird islands in the world.

Unfortunately, albatrosses and petrels, including three species which nest nowhere else, fall frequent victim to longline fishing. On the islands themselves is a far more insidious threat. Rats and mice reached the archipelago on board boats. The chicks of petrels and albatrosses have evolved on islands with no terrestrial mammals and have no defences when such predators arrive.

Rodents have destroyed many great seabird colonies around the world, after introduction by humans. On the main island of Tristan da Cunha, the once vast colonies of petrels are now reduced to tiny remnants. On Gough Island, researchers discovered that Gough’s house mice have learned to attack and kill seabird chicks, even Tristan albatross chicks which are a whopping 300 times the size of the mice. This predation is widespread and devastating. Tristan albatrosses and Atlantic petrels are declining fast.

Fortunately, two other islands (Nightingale and Inaccessible) remain rodent-free and it is vital they remain so – they are havens for seabirds and endemic land birds such as the rarest British bird, the Wilkins’ bunting which is found only on Nightingale, and the world’s smallest flightless bird, the Inaccessible rail.

Species at risk in the Tristan island group 

Tristan albatross, Gough bunting, Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross, spectacled petrel, Tristan thrush, Inaccessible rail, Inaccessible bunting, Nightingale bunting, Wilkins’ bunting, sooty albatross, Atlantic petrel, MacGillivray’s prion.

Objectives

  • We are working with the local government, community and the conservation and fisheries teams on Tristan to build local capacity for conservation management and monitoring. We currently support two posts in the Conservation Department and have assisted with research, management planning and reporting for Tristan and the other islands. The RSPB has had staff based on Tristan and Gough for most of the last decade.

  • We are carrying out research to increase knowledge of key sites and species especially the many land birds and seabirds which are endemic to the Tristan island group.

  • We are working with partners to plan for the eventual eradication of rodents from all of the Tristan Islands. The islands are large, rugged and have a ferocious climate. The first operation, to remove mice from Gough Island, is considered most urgent and is planned to take place in 2020.

 

Planned Work

We currently have several projects running within the Tristan archipelago which include:

  • The strengthening of Biosecurity measures to further protect Tristan’s unique and threatened wildlife from future introductions of species, including invasive non-native species.
  • Marine research into the effects of climate and other associated risks on the Tristan lobster, upon which the community depend.
  • Assessments of land bird populations throughout the island group as so little is known about the many endemic terrestrial species that Tristan holds.
  • Seabird research and tracking to enable a better understanding of the marine environment and how species use it.
  • Satellite tracking of Subantarctic fur seals and blue sharks to further understand how larger marine species use Tristan waters.
  • Supporting the Tristan Island community in a world-leading plan to achieve legal protection of one of the largest single areas of ocean.
  • Research into some of the invasive non-native species that have been introduced into the islands such as brown scale insect and how that is affecting endemic trees such as Phylica arborea and buntings – potentially threatening them with extinction.
  • The RSPB is working with partners including the Government of Tristan da Cunha to manage the infestation of the introduced plant Sagina procumbens on Gough: this species has the potential to transform upland areas of the island if it is allowed to spread.
  • The hugely ambitious Gough Island Restoration Programme, which seeks to remove invasive mice from the island, is planned to take place in 2020. Its legacy is being supported by a project focussed on enhancing biosecurity for the whole island group.

Results

An assessment of the impacts of rodents on Tristan and Gough has been published. Feasibility studies for the eradication of mice from Gough and rats from Tristan have been produced, as well as operational plans. The restoration of Gough Island is being prioritised given the unfolding environmental catastrophe resulting from widespread mouse predation. A Tristan Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) has been completed, implemented and subsequently updated. Monitoring manuals for birdlife have been published and are also now in the process of being updated. All publications are available for download below.

Partners

The RSPB works in partnership with the Fitzpatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town and the Tristan da Cunha government. We are extremely grateful to the people of Tristan da Cunha and the Island Council for their support, and to successive Administrators of Tristan da Cunha.

We would also like to thank the South African Government and Ovenstones Agencies Pty Ltd for support and advice to our projects.

Carrying out the Gough Island Restoration Programme in partnership with the RSPB and Tristan da Cunha are the UK Government, BirdLife South Africa, the South African Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Island Conservation, BirdLife International and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland

Funding

Our work on the Tristan Islands has been supported by many funders including OTEP, Darwin, Darwin Plus, and the European Union’s EDF-9.

Contacts

Coast on a stormy day

Andy Schofield

Senior UK Overseas Territories Officer, RSPB

andy.schofield@rspb.org.uk

Further reading

Tagged with: Country: International Country: Tristan da Cunha Project status: Project types: Organisation development Project types: Site protection Project types: Species protection