Planning to remove invasive mice from a UK Overseas Territory to save two Critically Endangered species from extinction has stepped up in recent weeks.  The Gough Island Restoration Programme is one of the RSPB’s highest priorities and we are determined to get the best plan together to give ourselves the greatest chance of success.

If you have been watching closely, you will know that we decided to delay the proposed restoration programme on the island to 2020 to buy ourselves time to get the right team in place, address the operational challenges and to ensure that our partnerships are as strong as possible.

In the months since, there’s been increasing evidence of the need for action…

…mice introduced to Gough are predating globally significant seabird populations. We now know the situation is so severe, that mice leave Gough with an estimated 2 million fewer seabird chicks every year

new evidence suggests that mice are now attacking adult seabirds, which could dramatically accelerate species decline

…unless mice are removed from Gough, two global endemics – the Tristan albatross and Gough bunting – will likely be driven to extinction.  Other globally threatened species affected include Atlantic petrels, MacGillivray’s prions and both sooty and Atlantic yellow-nosed albatrosses.

Gough is a remote, uninhabited island in the Tristan da Cunha archipelago in the South Atlantic and it is one of the UK’s Overseas Territories.  It is a World Heritage Site and relied upon by millions of seabirds some of which breed nowhere else in the world. 

That’s why we are delighted to have secured the support from the UK Government – especially the relevant minister Lord Gardiner who has been championing the project – to help us remove the invasive non-native mice which were probably introduced by sailors to Gough Island during the 19th century.

We can only achieve success through a strong partnership. 

Our most important partner, of course, is the Tristan da Cunha community. Local knowledge of the island and community interests are key to our success.

We have established a steering committee, which I chair, made up of representatives from Tristan da Cunha, the UK Government, BirdLife South Africa, Island Conservation, the GB Non-Native Species Secretariat, the Department of Environmental Affairs in South Africa and an independent expert in island eradication from the New Zealand Government. 

The committee meets in Cape Town this week and it’s an opportunity to review our operational plans.  The South African Government is particularly important given that the 2020 expedition to Gough Island will launch from Cape Town and, we hope, aboard the South African Antarctic supply vessel, the Agulhas II. 

Improved biosecurity in Cape Town will be needed to keep future Gough supply vessels are free of any species novel to Gough thereby preventing the mice returning.  A Defra-funded Darwin project to address these challenges will be launched this year.

What’s more, the learning from this programme will inform South African plans to restore Marion Island and protect another internationally important seabird island.

Global island restoration work is a growing community coming together through programmes like this one - learning lessons from previous initiatives and sharing experience with future projects.  Since the 1970s the scale and ambition of invasives restoration projects has increased and large-scale eradications have been successfully carried out on Macquarie Island and most recently South Georgia – brilliantly led by the South Georgia Heritage Trust.

Removing invasive non-native species from islands provides a perfect example of how we can address mistakes of the past and give nature a chance to recover.

We want and need to show that these programmes are not only possible but essential. We want the Gough Island Restoration Programme to provide another tangible demonstration of how the UK Government can fulfil its ambition to restore nature on a global scale, in a generation.

If you would like to support this work, you can donate directly to the programme.

Thank you for your support.

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The Gough Island Restoration Programme is being carried out by the RSPB in partnership with Tristan da Cunha , BirdLife South Africa and the Department of Environmental Affairs in South Africa and Island Conservation . The programme is part-funded by the RSPB, the UK Government, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and other generous individuals and organisations.

All images courtesy of Fabrice LeBouard who was part of the RSPB team on Gough last year: Tristan albatross (first and fourth image), Gough bunting chick and Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross.