Fersiwn Gymraeg ar gael yma.

Seabird watching season is in full swing, as Wales’ coastal islands welcome many visitors, looking to catch a glimpse of some of the most numerous and astonishing colonies of seabirds in the world. But what are the main threats to these birds, and how can we all play our part in helping them?

 On Ramsey Island you’ll find choughs, guillemots, and the ever-elusive manx shearwater. Skomer Island, run by the wildlife trust, hosts an impressive 6,000 pairs of puffins during the peak nesting season of June and July. Further north, the South Stack Cliffs are home to puffins, razorbills, gulls and many more. Visiting these islands is a great chance to experience a variety of magnificent wildlife, but we must also be mindful of how vulnerable these creatures can be, to protect them for the future.  

Alien invaders

Many of the most important seabird colonies thrive as they are on islands that naturally are free of mammalian ground predators. Their absence is crucial to the future conservation of our seabirds and other ground-nesting birds. Mammalian predators such as rats, mice, stoats, and minks have serious disastrous impacts on seabird colonies on islands through the predation of eggs, chicks, and adult birds.

 Rats historically arrived at the islands via shipwrecks during the 19th century. Incredibly adaptable, rats breed quickly, each any food source and are good swimmers. Over the next century, invasive rats ravaged islands such as Ramsey, decimating populations of seabirds. By 1999 puffins had become extinct on Ramsey, and the manx shearwater population was in danger on heading the same way. Volunteers and experts teamed up to eradicate the pests on Ramsey, and after monumental efforts the island is now rat free. Similarly, Ynys Seiriol - off Anglesey in north Wales- was once a vibrant puffin breeding ground. In 1805 it is estimated that there were as many as 50,000 individuals at the island. However, due to brown rats being accidently introduced in 1816, by 1990 the island hosted less than 20 pairs of puffins. Thanks to an eradication programme, the puffin population is slowly recovering.

Numerous islands in the UK and in Wales have now been successfully cleared of pests, allowing seabird populations the chance to fight back. However, the importance of biosecurity when visiting over the birdwatching season cannot be understated. With growing numbers of visitors to the islands in recent years, the risk of reintroduction of rats and mice has increased. Put simply - prevention is much better than cure.

What is biosecurity?

Biosecurity is the practice of protecting places from the threats to wildlife posed by introducing new diseases or types of plants or animals that do not naturally occur there. Seabirds often choose to nest on islands with no land predators and are particularly vulnerable to introduction of predators. Biosecurity for LIFE, a partnership between RSPB and the National Trust, has been set up to ensure the safeguarding of seabirds on UK islands. This project aims to improve biosecurity measures, provide biosecurity training to local community groups, and establish rapid incursion hubs across the UK to respond to reported biosecurity threats. This will raise awareness of what biosecurity is, why it matters and what actions individuals can take when visiting any island.

What can you do to help protect the seabirds?

To keep our beloved island bio-secure there are a few things you can do to help if visiting over the summer:

  1. Pack any food on the day you travel.
  2. Store any food in sealed containers.
  3. Check your baggage/hold/bilges for signs of stowaways.
  4. Do not land at an offshore island with any mammals onboard.
  5. Report any sightings of invasive non-native mammalian predators to island wardens.
  6. Take your rubbish home.

To find out more about taking responsibility for your own biosecurity and the work being done to keep these islands safe, head to the Biosecurity LIFE website.  

Images:

Ramsey Island- David Wootton (rspb-images.com)

Manx Shearwater- Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)

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