Tristan da Cunha Programme

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

Wandering albatross

Overview

As well as around 300 islanders, this mountainous archipelago is home to millions of pairs of seabirds, and several unique land birds. It includes the World Heritage Site of Gough and Inaccesible Islands: Gough is arguably the most important seabird island 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.
 
Rats 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 have discovered that Gough’s house mice have learned to attack and kill seabird chicks, even huge Tristan albatross chicks. 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 affected (not UK birds)

Tristan albatross, Gough bunting, Gough moorhen, Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross, spectacled petrel, Tristan thrush, Inaccessible bunting, Wilkins’ bunting, sooty albatross, Atlantic petrel

Objectives

  • We are working with the conservation team on Tristan to build local capacity for conservation management and monitoring. We currently support two posts in the Conservation Department and have assisted with management planning and reporting for Tristan and the other islands. The RSPB has frequently had staff based on Tristan and Gough over the last decade.
  • We are carrying out research to increase knowledge of key sites and species. Currently we are managing a project to assist in marine management at Tristan, as well as to gather new information on the Tristan rock lobster, the cornerstone of the Tristan economy.
  • We are working with partners to plan for the eventual eradication of rodents from the Tristan Islands. The islands are large, rugged and have a ferocious climate. There are probably more than one million mice on Gough, and if even one pair survives, we would be back to square one.

 

Planned Work

The RSPB is working with partners including the Government of Tristan da Cunha to reduce 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. We are continuing to support conservation and monitoring work on Tristan and the other islands and have project work in the marine environment and on albatrosses under way too. Our plans to restore Gough through an eradication of its mice are continuing to develop.

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 draft operational plans. A Tristan Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) has been completed and is being implemented, and monitoring manuals for birdlife have been published. All publications are available for download below.

Partners

The RSPB works in partnership with 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.

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

Clare Stringer

Head of Globally Threatened Species Recovery Unit, RSPB

clare.stringer@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