It's exciting news from Jaclyn Pearson, Project Manager for the Isles of Scilly Seabird Recovery Project. BBC Springwatch have been filming  on St Agnes, Isles of Scilly to showcase our Manx shearwaters!

The Isles of Scilly Seabird Recovery Project is a partnership Project (RSPB, Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust, Duchy of Cornwall, IOS Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Natural England). The main aim of the project is to reverse the decline in nesting Manx shearwaters and storm petrels, by removing brown rats from the islands of St Agnes and Gugh. Rats were accidently introduced to the islands via shipwrecks dating as far back as the 1700s and they are the biggest threat to burrow-nesting seabirds on land as they predate eggs and chicks

Manx shearwaters ‘rafting’ near St Agnes. (c) Nathan Fletcher

The Isles of Scilly are one of only two places in England where these two species of seabirds breed, the other being Lundy in the Bristol Channel. By removing rats on Lundy 12 years ago, breeding Manx shearwaters increased by 250% and the storm petrels returned to breed. So far the project on St Agnes and Gugh is working too! In 2014 with contractors ‘Wildlife Management International’, we successfully removed the rats (the population of rats was approximately 3300 and we carried out a ground-base baiting operation to remove them), Manx shearwaters then successfully raised chicks the following September - the first chicks to be recorded surviving on St Agnes and Gugh in living memory!  Within two years storm petrels retuned to breed too.

Jaclyn with Manx shearwater chick. (c) Nick Tomalin

Last summer we recorded seventy-three pairs of Manx shearwaters breeding on St Agnes and Gugh, up from 22 in 2013 before the removal of rats. And nine apparently occupied storm petrel nests were recorded on the two islands. Some of the breeding records were also obtained during ‘chick-check’ walks, whereby residents of St Agnes learned how to monitor these two seabird populations. In total 32 Manx shearwater chicks were recorded outside their burrows and nine storm petrel chicks were heard calling in their nest sites. 

But its not just seabird benefiting, the native Scilly shrew (Lesser white-toothed shrew) population has also seen a large increase since the removal of rats. These shrews are part of the natural habitat of scilly, as rats no longer predate them, their abundance levels have increased dramatically and most residents share their home with a shrew.

Scilly shrew. (c) Dave Grundy

This project represents a case study for other community-based projects, showcasing how eradications can gain community support and benefit both wildlife and people. The community has taken ownership of protecting its seabirds, with 100% saying rat removal and the subsequent increase in seabirds have had, or will have, a positive effect on eco-tourism, a key source of income for the islands.

We are all very proud of this project, and so are simply thrilled to be sharing our story with the Springwatch team.

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