RSPB’s Morwenna Alldis discovers the next challenges facing the Island of Lundy and the Isles of Scilly, our aspirations for the future of the Island’s seabirds, and how visitors can help keep the seabirds safe.

Key Challenges for Lundy and the Isles of Scilly

It’s one thing to remove rats from an island, it’s quite another to keep them off. This requires a lot of vigilance and biosecurity is top of the agenda for Lundy and the Isles of Scilly.

On Lundy biosecurity is led by The Landmark Trust who manage the island and the boat that transport goods and people to and from the Island. The RSPB has worked with the Trust to write a detailed biosecurity plan and currently the Biosecurity for Life team have received DEFRA funding to assist further.

Photo above: Jaclyn Pearson, RSPB Island Officer, surveying the cliffs on Lundy

Key measures include:

  1. Preventing rats coming onto the boat via cargo.
  • Visual checks of cargo, such as animal feed, looking any signs of rats e.g. gnaw marks
  • Goods are not stored/ left siting on the Quayside where rats could access them. It’s about minimising the opportunity that rats have to get onto the boat.
  1. Regular checks for rats are carried out across the island via monitoring stations – these check points have a chocolate wax block inside, checked for bite marks.
  2. An Island Response Team set up by the RSPB for both Lundy and the Isles of Scilly. The team is made up of fully trained staff and volunteers who are ready to leap into action and travel to the islands to control any new rat incursions should one ever be sighted.

Biosecurity on the Isles of Scilly:

  1. Checking all high-risk items that are brought to the islands, such as hay, animal fodder, and fresh fruit and vegetables and alerting suppliers of these goods to the fact that St Agnes and Gugh are rat-free. 
  2. Maintain bait stations at harbours, quays, and on service boats. All boats are checked regularly for rat signs.
  3. Monthly checks by the community on 120 non-toxic monitoring devices placed around St Agnes and Gugh to search for any rat sign and general vigilance from both residents and visitors. 

Photo above: Volunteers John and Trish Peacock being trained by RSPB's Jaclyn Pearson on how to check the bait stations.

Jaclyn Pearson, Biosecurity Officer said: “As the RSPB Project Manager for Isles of the Scilly Seabird Recovery Project, I am so proud of the efforts of everyone involved over the five year project, in particular I continue to be impressed by the efforts of the partners carrying out biosecurity measures to keep the islands rat-free. There are 20 volunteers on St Agnes who carry out biosecurity checks, and in the South West region volunteers are trained to assist both the Isles of Scilly and Lundy if a rodent incursion response is needed. I am so grateful for all the people power involved in protecting our special seabirds into the future.

Photo: Pupils from St Agnes School learning about biosecurity monitoring with RSPB's Jaclyn Pearson

John Peacock, Isles of Scilly community member and Biosecurity volunteer, said: “As a business owner on St Agnes, the project to eradicate rats from the isles and save our seabirds has had wider positive impacts too. I provide boating wildlife safaris for visitors keen to view the seabirds and hear about the conservation work to remove rats. And as a community member and seabird heritage volunteer I assist to keep the islands rodent free through biosecurity, ensuring rodents do not return on my boat. I feel proud that together the project partners and community continue to safeguard our wildlife.”

We need YOUR help to protect our important seabird heritage on Lundy and the Isles of Scilly. Head to the Biosecurity for Life website to find out more,

Five things visitors can do to make a difference:

1. Report any signs of rats on the islands, or on your boat.

  • For Lundy: Speak to the island warden, Dean Jones.
  • For the Isles of Scilly call our 'rat on a rat' hotline on: 01720 4221543

2. When packing for an island visit please check bags and any equipment for rats e.g. camping equipment or climbing gear that may have been stored in sheds or garages

3. Avoid seabird colonies, keep dogs under close control and move away from birds showing signs of distress.

4. Please follow restrictions on visiting the uninhabited islands on Scilly as all are important for wildlife.

5.Always dispose of waste properly and help to keep our beaches clean – litter provides food and nesting material for rats as well as being a hazard for seabirds and other marine life.

Together we can keep these islands 'rat free'.

Photo above: Volunteer residents check bait station on Isles of Scilly by Nick Tomalin

Future Aspirations - Better Protection for the Islands

Lundy is classed as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), but it now qualifies to have its statutory level of protection increased to a Special Protection Area ( SPA) because it is now internationally important for both its Manx shearwater population and its total seabird assemblage, Partners are hoping to make this happen as it will offer enhanced protection for the seabird colonies that call Lundy home. And it means that the bird population automatically becomes a consideration for any offshore wind development proposals. SPA colony extension is already in place but one for offshore foraging areas would be an aspiration.

On the Isles of Scilly, St Agnes and Gugh are the only two islands in the archipelago to become rat free – some of the other islands have rats resident on them and the dream would be to carry out eradication on all of the islands. But this is a much bigger project that depends heavily on funding as well as more community backing.

Photo above: Fulmars resting on a cliff edge by Nick Tomalin

Healthier Seas

A key factor for both Lundy and the Isles of Scilly after building these fantastic havens for seabirds, is to focus on making the seas that they feed in healthier.

Paul St Pierre, RSPB Conservation Officer, said: “The response for the birds after the eradication of rats has been instant and fantastic.  Establishing a productive safe environment for these burrow nesting seabirds on land  was a major first step, maintaining that environment through good biosecurity measures and ensuring food rich and safe seas for these birds will provide the right conditions for seabirds to once again flourish on Scilly.”

It’s likely that birds from all these islands, including Skomer, use similar feeding grounds. Climate change could be a big issue affecting our Celtic seas and the food they provide. And these seas have also become a testbed for floating wind turbines which could impact seabirds like the Manx shearwater. Manx’s are attracted to light and so could be drawn towards the lights on the floating turbines and hit by their propellers. The birds could also become displaced by actively avoiding turbines that are located over their feeding grounds. More research needs to be done on what food sources these island birds rely on and where they are finding them. And then work towards getting these areas designated to safeguard the birds and their food form further developments.

Photo above: View from Lundy's clifftops by Paul St Pierre

If we continue to work together - conservationists, residents, and visitors, to help give seabirds a safe home on Lundy and the Isles of Scilly, their future looks bright and abundant. And the numbers from the latest survey on Lundy, which has just been completed as I type this, now give us even more cause for cheer.

To learn about our wider island restoration projects, please support our Gough Island Appeal

All of our work on the Island of Lundy, the Isles of Scilly and further afield like Gough Island, wouldn't be possible without your incredible help. If you want to make a lasting difference here at the RSPB, why not become a member today for as little as £5? By becoming a member of the RSPB, you’ll gain free access to over 200 reserves across the UK all year round, plus free copies of our wildlife packed magazine, Nature’s Home.
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