Rat free and a seabird's paradise - the Shiant Isles
A Western Isles wildlife conservation project has been named as one of the finalists in the European Natura 2000 Awards – and needs your public vote to win.
The successful ‘Shiant Isles Recovery Project’ took place over winters 2015/16 and saw the eradication of rats on the small Shiant Isles, situated five miles south east of Lewis.
“This project is an excellent example of meticulously planned conservation intervention, informed by robust preliminary research clarifying all possible threats and supported by detailed monitoring allowing the documentation of an impressive conservation gain: the successful and sustainable recovery of the breeding populations of over 150,000 pairs of seabirds, including some 63,000 pairs of puffins,” said Natura 2000, a network of core breeding and resting sites for rare and threatened species, and some rare natural habitat types which are protected in their own right.
Already designated as a Natura 2000 site due to the important breeding habitat provided for thousands of seabirds protected under the EU Birds Directive – birds like Atlantic puffins, razorbills, common guillemots, European shags, and kittiwakes – the Shiants’ seabird populations had suffered as rats invaded the islands and, over the years, their predation on seabirds and chicks have had significant impact; storm petrels in particular had stopped breeding on the isles.
Involving the RSPN, Scottish Natural Heritage and Isles owner the Nicholson family, and with the help of a team of fifteen volunteers, the Shiant Isles Recovery Project saw an entirely ground based operation take place to get rid of the rats, with the manual application of rodenticide across a grid of bait stations, covering all vegetated ground, and including near vertical cliffs that were only accessible via support ropes.
The project was heralded a resounding success – there have been no signs of rates on the islands for 18 months after the eradication programme.
And Petrels are now being actively encouraged to return by playing their calls both out to sea and from a network of speakers mimicking a colony.
The project is also spreading the message about ‘biosecurity’ – the process by which sensitive island habitats such as the Shiants can be kept predator-free through the vigilance and cooperation of human visitors.
To cast your vote for the Shaint Isles Recovery Project in the Natura 2000 Awards, please visit www.natura2000award-application.eu/finalist/3172
And you can find out more about the Project at www.rspb.org.uk/shiantslife