The Isles of Scilly, 26 miles of the tip of Cornwall have five inhabited islands (St. Mary’s, St Agnes and Gugh, St. Martins, Tresco and Bryher) with a population of 2,000 mainly living on St. Mary’s. Scilly is home to 13 breeding species of seabirds including puffins.
Together these islands are estimated to hold a remarkable 67% of the world population of breeding Manx shearwater. These birds are diurnal but will only come ashore or go out to sea under the cover of darkness and nest underground so you’re unlikely to see them when you visit the islands unless you stay overnight. You will see that the ground is covered in burrows and is therefore extremely fragile so take care to stay on the paths when you visit. Skokholm is also home to the fourth largest storm petrel colony in the UK, holding 8% of the UK breeding population. These birds’ nest in crevices in stone walls or quarries and are also nocturnal when on land to avoid predation. The islands most famous resident however is the puffin, these birds nest underground but come out in the day so you are likely to see rather a lot of them if you visit between April and July. All these ground-nesting species are particularly susceptible to invasive non-native mammalian predators, they would not survive if rats, mink or stoats arrived on the islands.
In these times of self-isolation and global concern most of us currently find our access to nature and wild spaces being restricted from what we are accustomed to. There is now an increased opportunity to take the time to find pleasure in the nature living on our doorsteps. To discover those species we so frequently by-pass, on our way to perceived grander locations. As spring advances, to find solace in the opening of a flower or the movement of a queen bumblebee past a window.
In light of the hedgehog’s mainland declines, it may seem a little surprising that they are considered an invasive species on the UK’s offshore islands. In fact, hedgehogs have been found to survive at higher densities on some islands than in their native mainland range. This is partly because their natural predators like the European badger are absent, and climate change is leading to more favourable conditions for hedgehogs on islands. This in turn leads to very high levels of hedgehog predation on the eggs of ground-nesting birds: on one island hedgehogs were found to drive a 39% decline in breeding shorebirds over ten years – and were responsible for up to 50% of all breeding failures
Grassholm is one of those islands that assaults your senses upon approach with both the smell, noise and sight of over 36,000 pairs of gannets. On a round island boat trip you’ll see them on their nests or flying overhead like aeroplanes before folding their wings back and diving at speed to catch their prey in the surrounding waters. 6.8% of the world population of Northern gannets breed on this lump of rock just 10 hectares in size. In fact, the majority of the island is now white in colour due to the animals and their guano, with only a relatively small strip of grass remaining where they are yet to colonise. Grassholm is the third largest gannetry in the UK after the Bass Rock and St Kilda – two other sites we’re also working on.
Lying only a mile off the Northumberland Coast, the Farne Islands archipelago hosts one of England’s most impressive seabird colonies, managed by the National Trust. Depending of the state of the tide, the Farnes boast between 15 and 28 islands, the largest being just 16 acres in size. Onto these small isles, an assemblage of over 160,000 seabirds crowd together each summer to breed.
Brown rats can have a body length up to about 28cm with a tail between 10-24cm. They grow to weigh 200-300g and tend to live about 2-years in the wild. As with all rat species brown rats are very good breeders, females can breed from 3 months old and average 5 litters per year. Pup numbers average about 6 pups per litter although litters of up to 12 are not uncommon. Brown rats live in loose colonies made up of smaller ‘clan’ groups digging their own burrows. Larger more powerful males occupy and defend better territories and food sources
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