Visitors to seabird colonies urged to check for stowaways


Daytrippers travelling to seabird colonies are being urged to check their bags for rats, mink and stoats over fears they may be inadvertently importing deadly predators.

The National Trust and RSPB have launched a new £700,000 campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of invasive animals.

In the past, colonies of birds such as puffins, Manx shearwater and storm petrel have been devastated by rodents which have been accidentally brought to remote islands by human activity.

On Canna, off the west coast of Scotland, Manx shearwater numbers fell to just two pairs by the 1970s after a shipwreck brought brown rats to the island.

On St Agnes and Gugh in the Scilly Isles, Manx shearwater had attempted to nest for decades but no chicks had ever been seen because of the population of brown rats. Recently the rodents have been removed allowing breeding for the first time in living memory.

Under the new campaign boat owners will be encouraged to check their boats, cargo and baggage for stowaways, while daytrippers are being asked to search their bags and keep any food in animal proof containers.

The National Trust said that recently fieldworkers surveying in Scotland had discovered a rat in their bag on the mainland which could easily have been transported further afield.

Protecting seabird colonies

The new four-year ‘Biosecurity for LIFE’ project will work with island managers, conservation organisations, island communities and the marine industry to improve biosecurity on important islands.

Project manager Tom Churchyard, said: “Putting good biosecurity measures in place for seabird islands will reduce the risk of new predators arriving and having a negative impact on breeding birds.

“This threat is often underestimated and effective biosecurity can be expensive. To date, very few of the UK’s internationally important seabird islands have any protection against the arrival of new predators.

“New incidences are reported every year from islands around the UK, and climate change among other factors is expected to make these a more common occurrence.”

The UK is home to an estimated eight million breeding seabirds, with up to half of the European populations of breeding on islands including the Farne Islands off the coast of Northumberland, Grassholm off the Welsh coast, Copeland in Northern Ireland and Foula one of the Shetland Islands off the coast of Scotland.

Over the last few centuries, many seabird colonies in the UK have suffered from falls in population or been lost completely lost because of predation.

Dr David Bullock, Head of Species and Habitat Conservation at The National Trust, said: “It’s vital that the UK addresses this acute seabird conservation issue.

“Many of the UK’s incredibly important seabird populations, such as shearwaters, puffins, terns and storm-petrels, are in serious trouble and their colonies have to be free from disturbance in order to breed successfully.

“We need to do all we can to help them, not only to secure their future but also to protect our wider marine environment.”

This article was originally published as Daytrippers to seabird colonies urged to check their bags for stowaway rats, mink and stoat at The Telegraph on 17/05/19.

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