It's Invasive Species Week – a time to look at the impact invasive non-native species are having on our native wildlife in various environments. Today, for the fifth and final day of this year’s Invasives Week, we take a look at islands – an environment which is highly susceptible to invasive species.
Invasive non-native species (INNS), particularly rodents, are a major threat to seabird islands worldwide. Species adapted to islands are particularly vulnerable to INNS as they often lack adequate defences against introduced species. The RSPB and partners are involved in a range of complex and challenging island restoration projects, typically involving the eradication or control of invasive mammals. Here are just three examples of some inspiring projects currently underway…
Gough Island Restoration Programme
This is an ambitious programme, run in partnership by the RSPB and Tristan da Cunha, the UK Government, BirdLife South Africa, the Department of Environmental Affairs in South Africa, Island Conservation and BirdLife International.
Located in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean, Gough Island (part of the UK Overseas Territory of Tristan da Cunha) has long been considered one of the world’s most important seabird islands, relied upon as a breeding site by millions of seabirds, many of which are found nowhere else on earth. Tragically, the unique wildlife that earned Gough World Heritage Site status is in peril.
Invasive non-native house mice were accidentally introduced to the island during the 19th century. Following suspicions that mice might be impacting the breeding success of birds, video cameras were deployed at some nest sites and footage reveal how the mice eat the flesh of live seabird chicks. Estimates indicate that predation is causing the loss of well over two million seabird chicks and eggs from Gough Island every year. Worryingly, recent observations show that mice may now be attacking adult birds as well.
The evidence clearly shows that if the mice are not eradicated, Gough’s two Critically Endangered endemic birds, the Tristan albatross and the Gough bunting, will become extinct, while the endangered and near-endemic Atlantic petrel and MacGillivray’s prion are also likely to be pushed further towards extinction. The Gough Island Restoration Programme seeks to remove the mice and will be carried out in 2020.
Find out the latest news from the programme and donate to the Gough Island appeal to help fund this vital work.
Photo: Small boat returning to the expedition vessel after a day seal-tagging on Gough Island World Heritage Site, South Atlantic Ocean. Jonathan Hall (rspb-images.com)
Orkney Native Wildlife Project
While native to the UK mainland, the arrival of non-native stoats in the Orkney ecosystem poses a very serious danger to Orkney’s internationally important wildlife. First reported in 2010, the stoats threaten the survival of the Orkney vole and will impact on populations of breeding hen harriers and short-eared owls, for which the vole is an important food source. Stoats are also expected to have a significant negative impact on the abundant breeding waders and seabirds (as they eat the eggs and chicks), for which the county is famous for, and which underpin a vibrant ecotourism sector on the islands.
The Orkney Native Wildlife Project is a partnership between the RSPB, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Orkney Islands Council, which aims to ensure that Orkney's native wildlife is safeguarded from the threat of invasive non-native stoats by completing a full eradication of stoats across Orkney.
Find out more about this significant project here.
Biosecurity for LIFE
Prevention and eradication are only part of the story for combating INNS. Long term biosecurity, that is, ensuring the problem doesn’t happen all over again, is vital. Island biosecurity measures are severely lacking, or completely absent, on many of the UK’s globally important seabird islands. With many of the UK’s eight million seabirds breeding on predator-free islands, it is vital to the survival of these seabird colonies that we keep the islands predator-free.
Many of these sites have no biosecurity plans and no on-going surveillance that could detect new predators arriving on these islands, exposing hundreds of thousands of UK seabirds to an ongoing risk of predator invasions.
The Biosecurity for LIFE project is a partnership between the RSPB, National Trust and National Trust for Scotland, aiming to implement biosecurity measures for the UK’s seabird islands, ensuring they are protected in to the future from predator invasions. With generous funding from EU LIFE, Scottish Natural Heritage, Natural England and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs of Northern Ireland, the project will work with a wide range of stakeholders including island managers, island communities, conservation organisations and marine tourism operators to raise awareness of the threat of invasive non-native predators on seabird islands and provide training and support to island managers and island communities to safeguard the most important seabird islands in the UK.
This project launches this week – find out how you can help here and follow @biosecuritylife for regular updates on the project.
For more information on Invasive Non-Native Species, the threats they pose and how you can help, take a look at our interactive storymap.
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