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.
Over 65% of the land across Scilly is managed by the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust and a partnership of organisations, including the RSPB deliver actions to protect seabirds on both the inhabited islands and the 140 uninhabited islands. This included the ‘Isles of Scilly Seabird Recovery Project’ removing the rats from St Agnes and Gugh in 2013.
By removing rats from St Agnes and Gugh, the nearby uninhabited Western rocks (which are the most important seabird breeding islands) are protected from any rats which could have potentially swam the 1km swimming distance. On the other side of St Agnes and Gugh, a deep 2k water channel separates St Agnes from any incursion of rats swimming back from St Mary’s. If (or when) rats return to St Agnes, it will likely be from boats.
The archipelago has a rich maritime history of ship wrecks, it is likely that rats swam ashore to St Agnes and Gugh in the 1700’s. The uninhabited islands which have never had rats remain strongholds for seabirds and the action now is to do the same for St Agnes and Gugh, to remain rodent free through biosecurity.
The residents of St Agnes and Gugh do something very special - not only do all the residents remain vigilant for rodent sign, ensure high risk freight items are checked and ask visitors to assist - a group of 25 volunteers carry out biosecurity monitoring checks monthly.
Known as the ‘Seabird Heritage Volunteers’ they maintain biosecurity stations around the island which contain wax blocks flavoured with chocolate or peanut butter (flavours favoured by rodents). If a rat does return, they will seek out food and gnaw marks left in the wax will be detected by the volunteers.
This community knows all too well what the impacts of rats are to an island. Not only predating the seabirds, but rats impact their businesses and day to day lives as farmers, fisherman and tourist accommodation providers. When asked about their momentum to continue to carry out monthly biosecurity checks, they explained that prevention is better than cure. The seabirds are thriving, and they don’t have to worry about rats gnawing through goods, vegetables, lobster pots or being inside buildings. They like it rat-free and will work hard to keep it that way into the future.
Jaclyn recently carried out an audit of the biosecurity stations and the incursion shed as part of in her Biosecurity Officer role and was thrilled to see the care and motivation this community continue to have.
She is keen that the Volunteer Coordinators share their experiences with other inhabited islands. The legacy of protecting seabirds through biosecurity can be done, giving a great sense of great achievement.
Find out more about the Isles of Seabird Recovery Project at www.ios-seabirds.org.uk