No Sign Of Rats On St Agnes As Seabird Project Moves To Next Phase

A seabird survey on Annet last year.

The Seabird Recovery Project on St Agnes and Gugh has moved to a new phase.

The islands have been free of rats for 17 weeks and organisers are now starting to train residents to look for signs of new rodent invaders.

The project is aiming to increase the numbers of nearby seabirds, including Manx shearwater and storm petrels, by removing the pests, which eat the birds’ eggs.

Biz Bell is from Wildlife Management International, the New Zealand-based company who are employed to eradicate the rats.

She says they’ve placed 2,500 monitoring stations on St Agnes to look for signs of the animals and there have been no positive sightings since before Christmas.

The work is now moving towards the ‘biosecurity’ phase, or making sure that St Agnes doesn’t get reinfested.

That means checking shopping bags and rucksacks for any rats that might have ‘stowed away’ from other islands, a rare but possible scenario, says Biz.

Project workers are also giving out information to visiting yachts and asking locals to talk to their mainland suppliers about the need to make sure rats can’t get into packages.

Project manager Jaclyn Pearson says staff from Wildlife Management International have spent the winter on the island and have really got involved with the local community.

And she says they’ve had to work in some very challenging weather conditions.

One early sign of change is an increase in the numbers of the rare Scilly shrew. Jaclyn says they also appear to be moving into new areas as the rats disappear.

The project has been careful to design the baiting stations so they don’t harm the rare mammals.

And a long lasting legacy of the work will be a number of Young Seabird Ambassadors, Five Islands School pupils from St Agnes and St Mary’s.

They’ve been learning about the importance of the project in protecting Scilly’s seabird colonies, which can number up to 20,000 birds from 40 different species.

Jaclyn says visitors coming to Scilly this season will also get to hear about the project.

Every Friday, a Wildlife Monitor will be pointing out birds from the deck of the Scillonian, while project member Darren Mason will be leading seabird safaris on St Agnes Boats.

Will Wagstaff will also include details of the rat eradication work in his wildlife talks on St Mary’s.

And Jaclyn says there could be some national publicity. A team from BBC’s Countryfile programme are visiting later this week with plans to film the conservation work.