Clock Ticking For St Agnes Rats

Biz Bell with Jaclyn Pearson, Manager of the Seabird Recovery project

Biz Bell with Jaclyn Pearson, Manager of the Seabird Recovery project

The person in charge of eradicating rats from St Agnes and Gugh has been visiting the islands to make sure everything is ready to go this autumn.

Biz Bell, Senior Ecologist with New Zealand firm, Wildlife Management International, who won the contract as part of the £900,000 Seabird Recovery project, says she hopes to lay the first traps in October.

But before that, she’s making final checks to make sure that islanders have rat-proof waste and compost bins.

Some people might be surprised how quickly Biz thinks they’ll get rid of the estimated 3,300 troublesome rodents on the island.

She says if they start in late October, she’d expect the majority to be gone by Christmas, with just a few survivors to chase into the New Year.

And the benefits might become apparent just as rapidly.

Biz said her company got rid of the rats on Lundy, in the Bristol Channel, and within a short time, the numbers of breeding pairs of Manx Shearwater rose from 160 to a few thousand, and birds that hadn’t been seen there for years started to recolonize the island.

From Radio Scilly

Biz Bell tells Radio Scilly how they’ll remove the rats from St Agnes and Gugh

She hopes that similar results will be achieved on St Agnes and Gugh. But it’s not just birds that could benefit. Biz thinks the numbers of the unique Scilly shrew could also go up, as well as certain plants that rats feed on.

Keeping the islands free of rats will require on-going surveillance. The project has a 25-year lifespan, and Biz says anyone with a boat will need to be vigilant for signs of rodents, like droppings or chewed wood.

She says they can even hide out in a rucksack that’s been left unattended with food.

The team will be using grain baited with poison, which isn’t attractive for cats and dog. Scilly shrews should also be spared because they eat insects. And if pets do eat the poison by accident, there’ll be an antidote ready.

In the future it could be possible to eradicate rats across all five inhabited islands, although that would be complex, especially on St Mary’s due to waste management issues.

The other islands would also need to be treated at the same time, because the rats can swim between them.

Biz says the cost of the programme sounds high, but it’s good value if you consider it’s spread over 25 years. There’ll also be economic benefits such as less costly repairs for damage caused by rats and potentially more tourism.

Biz says there’s also a lot of interest from other islands around the world because the human community on St Agnes is larger than most other places where this has been attempted.

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