A special place... The Isles of Scilly are one of only two places in England where Manx Shearwaters breed

play.png  Project video

 

Under threat...The Isles of Scilly hold 3,000 fewer pairs of breeding seabirds than 25 years ago

play.png  Project video


 

We need YOUR help to protect our important seabird heritage

play.png  Project video

Frequently asked questions

What is the Isles of Scilly Seabird Recovery Project?

Who is managing the project?

Who is doing the work?

How important are the islands for seabirds?

What’s in a name?

If they are already important why do you need to do anything more?

How do you know it is feasible?

Is there support for this project?

When is everything happening?

How can I get involved?

What birds will benefit and how do you know they will benefit?

What about other wildlife?

How will rat control affect tourism businesses?

What about the benefits for the community and visitors?

Will rat removal increase the numbers of breeding gulls?

Will the rat removal affect rabbit numbers?

Which rat species occur in the Isles of Scilly?

How many brown rats are there on the Isles of Scilly?

Are rats a native species?

Can rats swim?

What do rats eat?

Wasn’t a Scilly Shrew accidentally transported by boat to the mainland recently? What’s to stop a rat coming the other way?

Is rat control work new on the islands?

Has removal been successfully carried out before on inhabited islands elsewhere?

What does rat removal involve?

Isn’t poisoning inhumane?

Will there be lots of dead rats lying around?

How will you stop poisoning other things?

What happens if a person or a pet eats the poison?

Will there be any visual effects on the landscape?

What happens if the project fails at the first attempt?

How much does the project cost and who is funding it?

St Agnes and Gugh has had no rat-sign since Dec 2013 - what now?

Why was it so effective, so quickly?

How can you be sure there are no rats? Maybe they just got clever?

Who is the project team now on the islands if Wildlife Management International have departed?

How will the islanders and the project team keep the islands rat-free?

So if a rat comes back on a yacht or on some freight what will you do?

I want to know more about the biosecurity plan – what measures have you got in place?

Are the black plastic boxes dotted around the island anything to do with the project?

Were any other species affected by the bait?

Why were the team in orange hats on the other islands this winter?

So, is there still bait out there in the fields or anywhere else on St Agnes?

What do the residents on St Agnes think of it all? Are they happy?

Will mice and shrew populations go through the roof now?

When or will you be doing everywhere else?

How long until you can tell if there has been a positive effect on bird populations?

How did all that cost a million pounds? I thought they were volunteers?

Why are you not ringing the Manx shearwaters as part of this Project?

What is the Isles of Scilly Seabird Recovery Project?

The Isles of Scilly Seabird Recovery Project is the largest community-based island restoration project in the world to date. It has the following main objectives:

 • Reverse recent declines in seabird populations on the Isles of Scilly through removal of non-native species (brown rat) from the islands of St Agnes and Gugh and maintaining the uninhabited islands as rat-free.

 • Enable people living on and visiting the Isles of Scilly to learn about, take pride in, and play an active role in celebrating and conserving their seabird heritage.

 • Train and support island communities to embrace the benefits of the seabird recovery, including the removal of brown rats, and continue to protect their heritage once the project has ended.

Who is managing the project?

The Project is a partnership between RSPB, Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust, Natural England, Duchy of Cornwall, the Isles of Scilly Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and an island representative for St Agnes and Gugh.

Who is doing the work?

The Project employs a Project Manager who works with a large number of volunteers.

The contractor employed to carry out the rat removal work was Wildlife Management International Limited (WMIL). They will return to the islands in 2016 to check that the islands have remained rat-free. They are one of the world’s leading companies in this work with over 20 years of experience of island restoration projects and have successfully carried out this work on Ramsey, Lundy and Canna in the UK.

In addition we have employed a contractor, Spalding Associates (Environmental) Limited, to carry out the pre-removal, and post-removal ecological monitoring work covering land birds, invertebrates, vegetation and mammals.

The RSPB and Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust will be monitoring the seabirds throughout the project. 

How important are the islands for seabirds?

The Isles of Scilly are internationally important for seabirds with breeding populations of 14 species and approximately 20,000 birds found during the last full survey in 2006. The UK supports a significant proportion of the world and European populations of two species: European Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus and Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus.

The population of Storm Petrel on the islands is of international importance. There were 1,398 pairs in 2006. It is one of only two locations in England where Manx Shearwater breed. Geographically the islands lie towards the southern edge of both these species’ ranges.

 What’s in a name?

There is a wide variety of Storm Petrels breeding in the world. European Storm Petrel is the international English name for the species breeding in Scilly. We refer to European Storm Petrel as ‘Storm Petrel’ for our documents as this is the accepted common name (British Ornithologists’ Union 2012). One other Storm Petrel breeds in the UK, Leach’s Petrel, which is a very rare breeding bird in NW Scotland - although it is common in North America. Throughout the project we will use common names for species (e.g. Storm Petrel, Manx Shearwater, Puffin, Kittiwake, Fulmar etc) unless circumstances demand otherwise.

 If they are already important why do you need to do anything more?

Seabird populations in Scilly are important but also vulnerable. They face a variety of threats. On land the biggest threat is predation of eggs and chicks by brown rats. The overall population of seabirds declined by 24% between 1983 and 2006. Historically the population of seabirds was in the hundreds of thousands.

To ensure that the islands’ seabird populations can meet future challenges, opportunities to improve their current conservation status and breeding range need to be addressed.

To maximise the resilience of the existing population a feasibility study first reviewed current work protecting the uninhabited islands from brown rats. It also identified opportunities to enhance numbers of Manx shearwater and storm petrel in particular on inhabited islands, by providing currently unoccupied and potentially suitable habitat through future rat removal work. An assessment of whether rat removal would work on St Agnes and Gugh, so that these two species could colonise unoccupied habitat, was included in the feasibility study.

How did you know it was feasible?

The partnership commissioned a feasibility study looking into current and potential future rat control in Scilly. This was carried out by Elizabeth (Biz) Bell of Wildlife Management International Limited (WMIL) and took place during October 2010 to February 2011.

A Feasibility Study seeks to determine the likelihood of success and the sustainability of an eradication. A proposed project must pass seven key tests:

  • Technical feasibility– proven techniques are available that will achieve the desired outcome
    • Sustainability – risks of reinvasion are low or can be reduced to low through biosecurity measures
    • Social acceptability – the project has the support of island residents and stakeholders
    • Political and legal acceptability – the necessary techniques are legal or permissions can be sought, and are likely/expected to be granted, to be able to deploy them
    • Environmental acceptability – risks to non-target species and the wider environment can be avoided or reduced to acceptable levels and there is a net positive effect for nature
    • Capacity – all the skills and expertise required are available to the project
    • Affordability – sufficient funds are available/can be raised to complete and sustain the project, including for the on-going biosecurity measures that are required.

WMIL have been carrying out these projects successfully for over 20 years including three in the UK, Ramsey, Canna and Lundy. During the study Biz contacted a range of organisations and individuals (over 150) on the islands to seek their views, support and gather the required information. The study found:

 • There was 100% support for the current work on the uninhabited islands to protect seabirds.

 • The removal of brown rats from St Agnes and Gugh is feasible. Based on interviews of all the residents, the proposal to remove rats from St Agnes and Gugh was supported by the total local island community.

 • The removal of brown rats from Bryher, Tresco and St Martin’s is not feasible without these three islands being targeted together. In addition a number of issues would need to be addressed on the islands to reduce the food available to rats e.g. feeding of gamebirds. Based on random interviews, a project to remove rats from Bryher, Tresco and St Martin’s would be supported by the local community.

 • Due to a number of factors (including poor waste management, lack of public support and presence of other predators), the removal of brown rats from St Mary’s and therefore the whole archipelago is not currently feasible.

For detailed information about the feasibility study you can download the summary report.

Was there community support for this project from the start?

Yes. The entire community on St Agnes and Gugh were supportive of the proposal to remove brown rats from their islands. In addition other ‘off-island’ communities (the inhabited islands of Bryher, Tresco and St Martin’s) were supportive of the idea that it was undertaken as a pilot project. The feasibility study also found that there was 100% support for the current work on the uninhabited islands to protect seabirds. 

Implementing the feasibility study was one agreed action within the Isles of Scilly Seabird Conservation Strategy which in turn is part of the Isles of Scilly AONB Management Plan. This was produced by the AONB Joint Advisory Committee (JAC), which itself consists of islanders in various capacities as well as representatives from statutory and non-statutory bodies.

The scope of the feasibility study emerged from a workshop held on St Mary’s in March 2010 which was attended by a variety of local people from different sectors within the community.

The feasibility highlighted the full support of the islanders on St Agnes and Gugh to carry out the project and this was a requirement of the funding streams that have been secured.

When is everything happening?

Ecological survey work and preparations on the islands to make them 'rat removal ready' were carried out between spring and autumn 2013. The main removal phase was delivered from autumn 2013 to spring 2014 outside of the breeding season for birds and the tourist season. Monitoring for brown rats and other taxa will continue until the final check in winter 2015/16 after which we hope the islands can be declared rat-free. The implementation of, and adherence to, ongoing biosecurity measures to ensure the islands remain rat-free will be required in perpetuity.

A large part of the project concerns learning, participation and social outcomes. To these ends we have planned interpretation materials and activities to attract and empower a range of audiences. During 2013 we will produce leaflets, banners and displays for use on St Agnes and Gugh, and elsewhere in Scilly.

A contract was awarded to a graphic design company to produce interpretation materials according to the briefs provided by the project. For example, a seabird leaflet is freely available for visitors, to support local businesses and organisations and facilitate their engagement with this key sector.

The project will work closely with schools and other education providers to add value to existing programmes and the curriculum. A particular focus is the primary school on St Agnes and Gugh but there will be direct involvement elsewhere in Scilly, and resources produced online.

The project website www.ios-seabirds.org.uk is a central resource for information about the project, our seabirds and our involvement with the community. A contract was awarded to a web designer who created this and continues to assist with its management.

There is an ongoing programme of events for the islanders, visitors and schools. Information about these events can be found on the project website, twitter feeds and facebook pages; RSPB SW and IOSWT website pages, twitter feeds and facebook pages, and through the Tourist Information Centre and the information they circulate to visitors.

How can I get involved?

There are many opportunities to support seabird work on the islands and elsewhere. Look at the website www.ios-seabirds.org.uk or contact 01720 422153.

What are the benefits of carrying out a rat removal project and how do you know they will benefit?

The feasibility study for the project found that rats are having an impact on the social, economic and conservation value of the Isles of Scilly. The project is carrying out various studies and surveys through the life time of the project to assess the social, economic and conservation benefits of the project.

What birds will benefit and how do you know they will benefit?

In addition to Manx Shearwater and Storm Petrel, Puffins are also particularly vulnerable to predation by rats, as are smaller species such as the Common Tern. The removal of rats from Lundy Island through a similar Seabird Recovery Project produced an amazing tenfold increase in Manx shearwater numbers within 10 years rising from 300 to over 3000 territories.

Ground nesting shore birds such as Oystercatcher and Ringed Plover are also susceptible to rat predation, along with a wide range of land birds including Song Thrush and House Sparrow. Removal of brown rats from St Agnes and Gugh will also help maintain and secure the rat-free status of some of the islands’ most important seabird colonies, notably Annet.

What about other wildlife?

The 'Scilly shrew' (Lesser White-Toothed Shrew) may benefit from carrying out a rat control project. The feasibility study reviewed other projects carried out elsewhere, and found that on the Isle of Canna in the Inner Hebrides the numbers of shrews and wood mice increased after the removal of brown rats. The feasibility study also set out various monitoring devices to determine the densities of rodents and shrews on St Agnes and Gugh. The results indicated that the highest densities of Scilly shrew on St Agnes and Gugh were where long-term baiting for rats was undertaken. In addition there was evidence that brown rats were predating Scilly shrews. Therefore it is quite possible that rats had been suppressing populations of the Scilly shrew. Shrews will be monitored during the project so that we can determine how the removal of rats affects them. 

Rats are suspected to have broad impacts on the environments where they live, but the extent of these impacts are still being discovered (often only on islands once they are completely removed). We are monitoring vegetation and invertebrates to see how they respond to the absence of rats.

House mice have been recorded on St Agnes and Gugh in the past but were not caught during the feasibility study.

How will rat removal affect tourism businesses?

The experience from Lundy where significant amounts of information was provided for visitors revealed no negative impact on the tourist economy. Rather, the increase in Manx Shearwaters was a positive story for the island.

Some of the biosecurity measures that are necessary require the co-operation of tourism businesses to help ensure rats do not get back to St Agnes and Gugh,  but we do not envisage any detrimental impacts resulting from this.

What about the benefits for the community and visitors?

There are a considerable number of benefits to both the community and visitors.

Public money is currently made available to control rats around existing waste management sites. Rat bait is also provided over the counter for private individuals on the islands. Removing rats altogether in certain areas could help reduce this ongoing cost as well as removing the risk of exposure to bait of non-target animals in the long-term.

Public money is already being used to control rats on uninhabited islands too. Appraisal of current work and further removal work could well reduce future costs here.

Furthermore, rats carry various diseases that can affect humans as well as other animals. Their removal helps reduce the risk of the spread of such diseases, some of which can be fatal.

Rats can and do cause damage to properties and crops. Their removal will provide an economic benefit to tourism as well as farming, eliminating the need for continued private baiting.

The project should also help owners and managers of properties meet the requirements of Government food safety legislation. This, for example, requires exclusion of pests from buildings used for food storage.

Waste management improvements that reduce rats would also serve to reduce the impact around such sites of gulls, which may open rubbish bags and scatter the contents.

From responses from the feasibility study the costs to the Isles of Scilly of rat control, damage, contamination and associated health issues were estimated to be up to £200,000 per year;

 o St Mary’s: £160,000

 o Bryher: £7,500

 o St Martin’s: £12,500

 o Tresco: £5,000

 o St Agnes and Gugh: £15,000

 o There are two recorded cases of Weil’s disease on the islands.

Will rat removal increase the numbers of breeding gulls?

We do not believe that the work will significantly increase numbers of large gulls. They tend to breed in a range of natural and artificial locations where rats may or may not be present.

The RSPB and NE are currently monitoring breeding productivity on natural sites where rats are both absent and present as well as on ‘artificial’ sites in Hugh Town. This monitoring process was started after dramatic declines were recorded at natural colonies.

The population in more natural locations both with and without rats has been undergoing similar fluctuations in breeding productivity. This would seem to indicate that the breeding productivity of gulls may be linked to other issues.

As anticipated, their highest breeding productivity anywhere on the islands is in Hugh Town where an abundant food source supports high productivity and rooftop predators are few.

Removing food sources available in urban areas may well require gulls to relocate and collect food in other locations.

Will the rat removal affect rabbit numbers?

Rabbit populations may increase after the removal of rats from St Agnes and Gugh, as rats predate the young rabbits. We will be monitoring the response of rabbits to the absence of rats on St Agnes and Gugh. An increase in rabbit abundance can have adverse effects upon erosion of paths and cliffs and upon vegetation.

The community have been informed of this and are happy to continue to control rabbit numbers as they currently do.

Information about rats

Which rat species occur in the Isles of Scilly?

Only brown rats Rattus norvegicus are known to occur on the islands and no black rats Rattus rattus were found during the feasibility study. Black rats have been recorded historically on the Isles of Scilly (in particular on Samson between 1300 and 1478) but are presumed to have died out in the late 1400s; they were not found as part of this survey.

How many brown rats are there on the Isles of Scilly?

The study in 2009 estimated the population of brown rats on the Isles of Scilly was 34,500:

 • St Agnes and Gugh: 3,100 (9%)

 • Bryher: 2,500 (7%)

 • Tresco: 7,450 (22%)

 • St Martin’s: 5,100 (15%)

 • St Mary’s is: 16,350 (47%)

This is a density of between 20 and 25 brown rats per hectare depending on the habitat type. Most inhabited islands around the world have rat densities that range between 15 and 50 rats per hectare (depending on habitat). 

Are rats a native species?

No. Brown rats are an introduced species. They arrived in the UK around 1720. (Black rats are not native to the UK either.)

Can rats swim?

Yes. They certainly can. The study took this into account because it’s something that will make the re-incursion risk of rats much higher for islands that are close together (re-incursion is when the species re-colonises islands it has been removed from). Based upon the known swimming abilities of rats the study found that the inhabited islands could be grouped into three;

 1. St Agnes and Gugh

 2. Bryher, Tresco and St Martins

 3. St Mary’s

On this basis it is unrealistic to carry out individual removal projects on Bryher, Tresco and St Martin's - these islands would need to be done together as a rat can swim between these islands. 

What do rats eat?

Rats are omnivorous and eat a wide range of foods including the eggs, chicks and adults of seabirds. During the feasibility study they were also recorded eating Scilly shrews, blackberries, seeds, heather, invertebrates, limpets, crabs and Pittosporum.

Wasn’t a Scilly Shrew accidentally transported by boat to the mainland recently? What’s to stop a rat coming the other way?

Inter-island and mainland boat traffic does pose a risk in this respect. It could allow rats to re-establish themselves after they have been removed. The feasibility study looked at all the quays both on the islands and the mainland. A range of boat operators were contacted to:

 • determine the level of risk; 

 • discuss the potential measures, training and resources that would be needed to reduce the likelihood of a re-incursion;

 • establish effective mechanisms to deal with any possible re-incursion.

 

The vigilance and co-operation of boat users and all visitors to the islands is required to help prevent rats from getting back to St Agnes and Gugh.

Rat removal and control work

Is rat control work new on the islands?

No. Rat control and removal work has been going on across the uninhabited islands for over 15 years for seabird conservation purposes. Furthermore, rat baiting is currently undertaken by the Council as well as by private individuals for public health and food safety reasons on the inhabited islands. 

However, the complete eradication of rats from islands where they should not be able to recolonise naturally, is new for the Isles of Scilly.

Has removal been successfully carried out before on inhabited islands elsewhere?

Although it is more unusual for this kind of work to take place on inhabited islands, there are two recent examples in the UK where rats have been successfully removed on inhabited islands: from Lundy off the north Devon coast and on Canna in the Inner Hebrides. Both sites have provided lessons which we were able to apply to this project.

However a feasibility study on Scilly was still required because islands everywhere are different. Local circumstances to be identified and assessed in terms of their risk to a successful project being carried out.

What does rat removal involve?

This is a 25 year project. Detailed planning and risk assessments, permits and approvals, operational details, continued community consultation, a bio-security strategy, contracts and monitoring and research programmes have been undertaken or are still underway.

The rat-removal operation occurred over winter 2013/14; from October to March (in a single 180-day operation) . Monitoring for surviving rats will continue for two years before a final decision on the success of the rat removal programme can be given. Monitoring of invertebrates, land birds, seabirds and vegetation will also continue through these two years. After this time, the island residents and project staff will be responsible for monitoring activity until the end of the five year period.

The most appropriate method for St Agnes and Gugh, based upon local circumstances, was a ground-based operation using rodenticide in a block formulation. The rodenticides used were difenacoum and bromadiolone. Both are second generation products with greater efficacy than first generation products such as Warfarin. This work was carried out during the winter months when success was likely to be highest as natural food resources for rats become scarce.

The bait was enclosed in ‘bait stations’ to prevent poisoning of non-target species. These stations were then placed at regular intervals across the island and checked daily to assess progress and address any issues. Doing this in winter also avoided disturbing the breeding seabirds we are trying to protect, significantly reduced the threats to non-target species and also avoided the main tourist season. Contingency plans are in place to allow for immediate and effective reaction to any incursion that may occur.

A final check will be carried out by the contractor two years after the removal phase to confirm the 'rat free' status of the islands. 

Isn’t poisoning inhumane?

Rat poisoning is carried out widely across the UK by individuals, contractors and public bodies including Councils. This project will conform to any relevant legislation on animal cruelty. 

Were there lots of dead rats lying around?

No. There were only 20 found above ground during the entire operation as rats usually move back to their burrows to die. On Lundy only three dead rats and on Canna only five were found in the open during the duration of the project. 

How will you stop poisoning other things?

The feasibility study assessed the risks and specific measures required on St Agnes and Gugh. Experience from other projects shaped the design of rat bait stations to exclude non-target species such as birds and rabbits that are found on St Agnes and Gugh, as well as humans. The timing of the baiting also meant that many bird species were not present. Few raptor species (merlin, peregrine and sparrowhawk) are present throughout the winter but primarily hunt birds and are highly unlikely to suffer secondary poisoning by eating rats. Kestrels are very unlikely to take such a large prey item. Scilly shrews feed on invertebrates and do not normally feed on bait and so their risk of poisoning is low. Permission from the Health and Safety Executive was obtained to use the baits that were neccessary to get the job done, and in order to gain the permits, we had to demonstrate that our methods and contingency plans meet the required standards.

What happens if a person or a pet eats the poison?

All residents including children are provided with information and shown the bait and bait stations so they are fully informed about the project including any symptoms relating to consumption. The bait also contains bitrex™ (denatonium benzoate): a bittering agent to make the bait taste unpleasant to humans to deter consumption. Handling rodenticide in itself presents a very low risk of poisoning, although every effort should be made not to inhale or consume dust. A full risk assessment is available for anyone handling bait and any bait encountered outside a bait station during the removal phase should immediately be collected and/or reported to the team with full details of its location. Anyone who suspects they may have consumed rodenticide should first contact their local GP. If any doubt exists then vitamin K antidote treatment is available.

Vitamin K was available throughout the removal phase of the project. This is the antidote treatment to poisoning by the rodenticides used on this project. Tablets can be used as a maintenance dose for animals thought to be at high risk of encountering rodenticide. For animals thought to have consumed rodenticide, or showing symptoms of rodenticide poisoning, one or more injections followed by daily treatment in tablet form may be required. Full information has been provided to the residents.

Will there be any visual effects on the landscape?

Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust bait stations remain in situ year round on uninhabited islands and the most conspicuous ones will be replaced over time with permanent wooden ones.

A small network of bait stations on St Agnes and Gugh remain in place as part of the surveillance strategy (these will not normally carry bait). The main removal work was carried out in the winter from November 2013 to March 2014, when bait stations were placed across the islands, these have now been removed. The stations themselves were designed to be low to the ground although they may be flagged to aid their location. 

How much does the project cost and who is funding it?

The project is funded by a variety of funding partners making a total contribution of £755,555. This covers a twenty five year period, with most of the work in the first five years. The European Union LIFE fund is providing £460,255, HLF has awarded a grant of £269,100, Isles of Scilly Area of Outstanding Beauty (AONB) Partnership Sustainable Development Fund has awarded a grant of £10,788 and Natural England £9,900.

This major investment in the Isles of Scilly will support a range of activities including the conservation restoration of St Agnes and Gugh, as well as maintaining the uninhabited seabird islands 'rat free'. As we only get one opportunity to do the work it is vital that the job is done thoroughly. There are additional benefits from this work that adds value to this investment.

The funding will also allow the partnership to work with a range of residents and visitors to help them make the most of the important seabird population, raise awareness of the threats they face, and help more people become involved in their conservation. 

St Agnes and Gugh has had no rat-sign since November 2013 - what now?

The bait has now been removed from the islands but the rat removal phase of the project was just the first part of the IOSSRP! More than 30 volunteers assisted Wildlife Management International Ltd to complete the removal phase and they all did a great job. There had been no rat sign for 14 weeks by the time the baiting operation was completed in March 2014. Now everyone needs to do their bit to help keep the islands rat-free and enable the seabirds to recover. The Project Manager, the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust and islanders will be responsible for the upkeep of biosecurity measures which should help ensure the islands remain rat-free. We ask all residents and visitors to remain vigilant for any sign of rats. The islands cannot be officially declared rat-free until two years after the last sign of rats was detected, according to international protocols. Wildlife Management International Ltd will return in 2016 to do a final rat check for us. Only then can we claim rat-free status.

Why was it so effective, so quickly?

Due to the number of properties and buildings and range of habitats on St Agnes and Gugh, bait stations were placed out across the islands in a much closer grid than for a standard brown rat removal operation. These bait stations were checked (and rodenticide replaced) daily six days a week for the first four weeks and daily between three and five days a week for the remainder of the project. This meant that more rodenticide was available to the rats in a shorter timeframe.

How can you be sure there are no rats? Maybe they just got clever?

Once the rodenticide taken by rats had reduced to nothing at the end of November 2013, non-toxic monitoring tools such as chocolate wax, peanut wax, coconut wax and soap that are very attractive to rats were put out every 25 metres across the islands. These show teeth marks if rats (or other animals) chew the blocks. In addition to these blocks and soap, tracking tunnels to detect animal footprints and trail cameras to get footage of any animal at the site were also used. These monitoring tools were checked between three and five days a week for 16 weeks with no rat sign being detected. Shrew, invertebrate, rabbit and bird sign were detected using these monitoring stations.

Who is the project team now on the islands if Wildlife Management International have departed?

The Project Manager, Jaclyn Pearson is in post for 5 years. She is now being joined by the team at the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust, by volunteers from across Scilly and by St Agnes residents. Without them the project would not be able to continue. It remains the largest community-based rat removal project in the world to date. The WMIL team wore orange hats during the removal phase so they could be easily identified. These hats have now been passed onto the new team, so when visiting if you see someone wearing a bright orange hat, it must be one of us – come and say hello!

How will the islanders and the project team keep the islands rat-free?

We need your help!

Help us to prevent incursion of rats onto St Agnes and Gugh. Check your baggage when visiting the islands - rats can easily stow away between islands.

‘Rat on a Rat’, call 01720 422153 to report any sign or sightings of rats.  We will then inspect the area and set up surveillance measures.

The community are taking measures to reduce the likelihood of an incursion by: ensuring that goods brought to the island are rat-free or checked on arrival (e.g. hay will be checked as this is a high risk freight item); ensuring good waste management using compost bins and secure wheelie bins; and at all times remaining vigilant for rat sign and encouraging all visitors to do the same.

There will be permanent monitoring stations from now on around the coast of St Agnes and Gugh. They are housing pieces of chocolate wax which are very attractive to rats. They are inedile for humans. If a rat does arrive on the islands the first thing it will do is look for food, gnaw on the chocolate wax and leave teeth marks for us to detect. These monitoring stations will be checked by the project team and the islanders. If there is an incursion (detected through teeth marks, any other rat sign such as droppings or a sighting of a rat) the response will be to set up a 50m baiting grid in the immediate area. Special interpretation signs around the islands will let you know if there is bait on the islands.

So if a rat comes back on a yacht or on some freight what will you do?

If a rat gets back to St Agnes and Gugh by yacht, freight or any other means, we will respond as rapidly as possible in accordance with the islands’ Biosecurity Plan. Depending on the circumstances, this is likely to involve using traps and laying rodenticide again. If rodenticide is used, we will alert residents and place new signs at arrival points to advise visitors. The faster our response, the less rodenticide we are likely to need and the more likely we are to be successful. Any rodenticide laid will be done in a way to minimise risk to all other species, just like before. Please help us ensure rats don’t get back to the islands:

Help us to prevent incursion of rats onto St Agnes and Gugh. Check your baggage when visiting the islands - rats can easily stow away between islands.

‘Rat on a Rat’, call 01720 422153 to report any sign or sightings of rats.  We will then inspect the area and set up surveillance measures.

I want to know more about the biosecurity plan – what measures have you got in place?

A detailed Biosecurity Plan has been written for St Agnes and Gugh, focusing on keeping the islands free of rodents. The Plan details measures that can be taken to prevent rodents getting back to the islands (prevention) measures so we can identify quickly if they do get back (surveillance) and a plan for what to do if a rat is detected or suspected (incursion response). Prevention involves checking all high-risk items that are brought to the islands, such as hay, animal fodder, and fresh fruit and vegetables and alerting suppliers of these goods to the fact St Agnes and Gugh are rat-free.  Harbours, quays, and service boats will maintain bait stations and all boats should be checked regularly for rat sign, particularly after they have been taken ashore on islands with rats (for example, for maintenance work over winter). Surveillance involves monthly checks of non-toxic monitoring devices placed around St Agnes and Gugh to search for any rat sign and general vigilance from both residents and visitors. Call the ‘Rat on a Rat’ number 01720 422153 if you suspect any sign of rat on the islands or a boat that services the islands. Incursion response will depend very much on circumstances at the time of the rodent incursion, but to be successful, it is vital that waste continues to be managed well on the islands - for example through the use of the wheelie bins and compost bins the project provided. If you would like to help us with prevention, surveillance or incursion response, or would like more information about the plan, please get in touch.

Are the black plastic boxes dotted around the island anything to do with the project?

Yes, these are the permanent monitoring stations which we will check every month for any sign of rat. They contain non-toxic pieces of chocolate wax which are very attractive to rats. Although not poisonous, they are inedible for humans. Please do not tamper with the boxes, and if you see any that have been tampered with, report it to us. The boxes state they contain poison, but they will not normally have poison inside. If any poison is placed inside (if a rat is suspected to have returned to the island) we will change the signs at the arrival points and inform residents. These monitoring stations will be checked by the project team and the islanders. Please get in touch if you would like to help us with this task.

Were any other species affected by the bait?

No. We have no evidence that any other species were affected by the bait during the rat removal phase, and we searched very hard for any sign of ill-effect. Every precaution was taken to avoid unintentional primary or secondary poisoning and the whole operation was designed to minimise all risk. Since the removal of rats shrews appear to have increased. Their main predator was the brown rat. The school children on the island are delighted to have such an increase in their shrews so quickly.

Why were the team in orange hats on the other islands this winter?

The team were trying to collect rat samples from St Martin’s, Bryher, Tresco and St Mary’s to prepare for the biosecurity phase of the IOSSRP. It is important to know whether or not rats from these islands have any genetic resistance to rodenticides in-case one makes it to St Agnes, Gugh or Annet. Were a rat to get to any of these islands and we have to use poison, we need to know it will work. This DNA information may also help us identify which island any rat that is found comes from (which would help us tighten up our biosecurity measures) or if we missed the last one in the initial removal phase (unlikely, but still possible). The information would also be useful to any future project to remove rats from these islands.

So, is there still bait out there in the fields or anywhere else on St Agnes?

No. No bait remains out on St Agnes or Gugh. Due to legal requirements, we have to leave signs in place for twelve months to tell people that bait was placed out over winter 2013-14. There is a possibility bait might be placed down in future, should a rat be found on the islands again. If this happens, we will inform residents and change the signs so that visitors are also made aware of the situation. Should we need to place bait out again in future, we will take the same precautions as before to ensure no other animals are harmed. Bait is still kept on St Agnes so that is it immediately available should we need it, but it is locked away in a secure location.

What do the residents on St Agnes think of it all? Are they happy?

The only reason this project went ahead was because the residents were unanimous in their support for it. We have only heard positive feedback from residents to date, with surprise at how little the rat-removal operation has affected them and their daily lives and gratitude to the team for their hard work. We have no reason to think residents are anything but happy – please get in touch if we are wrong.

Will mice and shrew populations go through the roof now?

The shrew population is expected to increase in the absence of rats, and indeed sightings of shrews indicate they are increasing already. Similar increases (in pygmy shrews) were noted following the removal of rats from Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel. It is difficult to predict by how much they will increase which is why we will be closely monitoring their response. The children at St Agnes School are excited to be helping with this aspect of the project. Shrews are protected by law and do not cause the kind of damage associated with rats.

There is uncertainty over whether or not mice are still present on St Agnes and Gugh. Although house mice used to live on the islands, residents have not seen them for a number of years and the IOSSRP has found no evidence that they are still here. It is quite possible that the population died out before the project began. Nonetheless, the project will continue to monitor for mice. If they are still on the island, they are likely to increase in the absence of rats. The IOSSRP will liaise closely with the islands’ residents over the matter, should any sign of mice be found.

When or will you be doing everywhere else?

There are no plans at present to remove rats from other islands in the Isles of Scilly as part of the IOSSRP. Rat removal projects, especially on inhabited islands, take time to plan and require considerable funding. No additional funding is currently being sought by the IOSSRP project. However, a feasibility study carried out by an independent expert considered the practicalities of conducting rat removal projects on the other islands. The study concluded that any removal of rats from Bryher, Tresco or St Martin’s would require all three islands to be targeted at the same time. St Mary’s could be tackled by itself, but the island’s sewage system would present a unique challenge to this kind of project. In both cases, residents would need to be supportive of the work in order for it to be successful. The IOSSRP is a 25 year investment, so there is time for us to help communities consider the benefits of living on rat-free islands and support community-lead initiatives should there be appetite for this.

How long until you can tell if there has been a positive effect on bird populations?

In September 2014 we had our first recorded Manx Shearwater chicks in living memory fledging from St Agnes and Gugh. There were 10 birds in total and this figure is expected to increase over the years.This is an exciting time for the project as we see how bird populations and other wildlife respond. We are monitoring the populations of seabirds as well as other wildlife so we will know more as time goes on. All islands are different and therefore the changes on St Agnes and Gugh are likely to be different to those on other islands where rat removal projects have taken place. The experience on Canna was that the first Manx Shearwater chicks to leave the islands sucsessfully were recorded at the end of the first breeding season post rat removal. Experience from Lundy tell us that the results can be dramatic and in 10 years their population of Manx Shearwaters went from c.300 to 3451 pairs.

How did all that cost a million pounds? I thought they were volunteers?

The cost of the project currently stands at £755,555 which provides funds over a five year period.  The project has only been running for a year and a half and whilst the preparation and main removal phase has been completed we cannot be sure rats have been removed successfully for two years, so long-term monitoring and a final check will need to be carried out after two years. In addition, we need to have in place biosecurity measures to prevent or remove any future incursions.  The funds will support work over a five-year period and leaves resources on the islands thereafter providing people with the tools to maintain the islands as rat-free.  This cost not only includes the practical conservation work for seabirds on St Agnes and Gugh but also all the uninhabited islands over the five year period, the monitoring work to better inform the response of the islands to the project, and a range of learning and participation activities such as a schools programme supporting the outdoor learning on the islands, which we hope will encourage more people to help protect the seabirds into the future.

Whilst volunteers are playing a vital role in the project this is only possible by having paid staff or contractors in place to manage and support them, and the project needed to provide the tools for them to do the work and cover their expenses such as food, accommodation and transport on the islands.  We have also had to be realistic about the levels of volunteer support we can access for particular pieces of work which means paid staff will need to be in place to undertake some work to meet our commitments.  In addition, various resources have been provided through the project for islanders such as composters and wheelie bins to help upgrade waste management on St Agnes and Gugh and leave behind equipment and tools to maintain the islands in the long term. 

Why are you not ringing the Manx shearwaters as part of this Project?

The current monitoring methods we use for Manx shearwaters and other species uses the least invasive methods we can.  Importantly the methods we use are repeatable against the work we have already done so we can monitor population changes and in the case of the Manx shearwater the recovery of the species on the islands we are working on.  We are also monitoring what we think are currently the biggest threats to Manx shearwaters that live on the islands, predation by rats being the largest threat at present. Currently we do not believe that ringing is necessary to help increase the population of the Manx shearwaters on the islands. 

Studies of birds such as Manx shearwaters are still very important as we need to understand their ecology. This will help us identify the course of action we need to take to conserve them, and ringing can play an important role in this.  A range of studies have been carried out or being undertaken on Manx shearwaters that already help us understand many of their needs.  

However, for example we still know very little about where these birds spend most of their life, which is at sea, so there is a case for carrying out more sophisticated projects that could involve tracking the birds so we can learn where is important to them and this could help protect them from threats they may face there now or in the future.  There are such projects already being carried out and therefore we will engage with this expertise as the project progresses, and we will address the practical issues and sensitivities associated with such studies e.g. the birds maybe inaccessible so we may need to have nestboxes in place first to ensure any project is feasible. 

 

Who to contact with any questions not answered here

Jaclyn Pearson (Project Manager) is your first points of contact. She will endeavour to answer any questions you have or will direct you to an appropriate source that can. Please contact her by email with any questions.

 jaclyn.pearson@rspb.org.uk

Press enquiries

Tony Whitehead, RSPB, 01392 453754, mobile 07872 414365 or email tony.whitehead@rspb.org.uk 


Principal Funders

  • Eruopa
  • Natura 2000
  • Heritage Lottery Fund
  • DEFRA

Project Partners and Supporters

  • RSPB
In addition to generous support from LIFE, the EU’s progamme for financing key environmental schemes across the continent and the UK’s own Heritage Lottery Fund, the Seabird Recovery Project is also being supported by the Isles of Scilly’s Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Sustainable Development Fund and the Isles of Scilly Bird Group.