I hope you enjoyed the photos and story in the Summer 2012 issue of Birds on our work on Henderson Island to save the Island’s wildlife from introduced Pacific rats. Here, you can read an exclusive diary account from Operations Manager Nick Torr – and watch our film. There is a twist in the tale though - news from the Island broke just before we went to print...

Watch our film: for interviews with the team that helped to make the operation possible, please visit www.rspb.org.uk/film

Nick’s story

“It’s the big day – time for the first application of poison bait that will hopefully rid the island of Pacific rats present here for several centuries, causing untold damage to Henderson’s wildlife. It has taken a lot hard work and planning by a large team spanning the globe to get to this stage. We arrived after an overnight voyage from Pitcairn in stormy conditions but, with sea conditions precluding any chance of making a start, we spent the day checking-in with the team camped on the island, logging the boundaries of the island into the helicopter’s GPS and making sure all our gear is ready.

“We are tucked in under the cliffs on the South coast. Our captain, Kale Garcia, has done an expert job anchoring the ship in challenging conditions. Although this location offers the most sheltered place from the large ocean swell remaining from the storm of two days ago the ship is still being moved around from the swell wrapping around the island and buffeting off the cliffs. Our Kiwi pilots, Peter Garden and David Gale have judged conditions to be “workable”, but these will be the most challenging we have worked in.

One of the ship’s crew, Sam, and I are working the helicopter deck, responsible for guiding the bait bucket  and filling it with a bag of bait suspended from the ship’s crane, while the helicopter hovers overhead. We fill the first bucket and hook it up to Peter’s helicopter while the two pilots go through their last pre-flight checks. I’m apprehensive about the movement in the deck but have total faith in the guys around me. The core of the team has been working together on this voyage for over two months and already have three islands under our belt. We treated Palmyra (in the northern Line islands) and Bernie and Enderbury (in the Phoenix Group) before reaching destination Henderson, but this island is seven times larger... 

Rock and roll

“Peter takes off, expertly timing the lift-off with the roll and pitch of the deck. David’s machine soon follows and all is looking good – we’ve started! While they are away the rest of the crew gets the next bait bags filled and ready. We hook the next one onto the crane and lift it up onto the helicopter deck –a tricky manoeuvre in these conditions but Kale’s 17 year old son, Tanner, is a wizard at the crane’s controls. An hour into the job, we have completed several bucket fills.

Now the next tricky bit - getting the helicopters back on the deck for refuelling. Peter comes in first, landing the bucket on the heli-deck then hovers over the other side, hanging there with the deck rising and falling below his landing skids. He judges just the right moment and is down safely. The refuelling crew do their stuff and within five minutes he’s away again, full bucket and back spreading bait. We carry on for another three hours before one of the rain squalls we have been carefully tracking along the horizon moves in and we call a halt. We up anchor and head round to North Beach to see the guys camped there. We’re pleasantly surprised to find sea conditions have significantly moderated there and we get in another couple of hours flying before dark.

“Day two and dawn finds us in more friendly conditions anchored just off East Beach. We put in a dawn-to-dusk effort, leaving us just half a day’s flying to finish off the first bait application. All goes well on day three and by early afternoon it’s play time for the hard-working crew. We are all feeling good and there is a real sense of achievement amongst us. We’ve checked the GPS printouts of the bait spread and it all looks perfect. Derek and I get a couple of hours ashore to check bait spread on the ground. 

“One week later and after a brief return visit to Pitcairn we are back at Henderson. In near perfect conditions the second bait application goes off without a hitch and it’s mission accomplished. We set sail for home knowing that all the hard work and planning has been worth it and that we have given the project the best possible chance of success.”

Latest news

Worryingly, we received news at the end of last week of a reliable sighting of a rat on the island earlier this month. We are arranging for a team to travel to Henderson to assess the situation and establish how many rats are present. There is a possibility that this rat arrived on Henderson after the eradication operation. We will have more information in the next few weeks. We’ll then determine next steps in consultation with experts from the Island Eradication Advisory Group and the New Zealand team who mounted the original operation.

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