Animals

Internationally Renowned British Seabird Colony Finally Free Of Rats

Monday, 8 April 2019

By Kieren Puffett

The Shiant Isles have been officially declared rat-free, thanks to a four-year partnership project to restore them as a secure haven for nesting seabirds.

The Shiant Isles are considered one of the most important international bird colonies and are home to such birds as the such as puffins, razorbills, and guillemots. With the rats now gone it’s also hoped that Manx shearwaters and storm petrels will begin to nest on the islands as well.

The EU LIFE+ funded Shiants seabird recovery project started in 2014 and is a partnership between the Nicolson family, custodians of the islands for three generations, Scottish Natural Heritage and RSPB Scotland. It has benefited from the help of many volunteers, and significant private donations.

The Shiants, a remote cluster of islands five miles east of the Isle of Lewis and Harris in the Outer Hebrides, is one of the most important seabird breeding colonies in Europe, hosting around 100,000 pairs of nesting seabirds each year. However, there was evidence that the rats fed on the seabirds’ eggs and chicks, having a detrimental impact on their breeding success. With many seabird populations facing a multitude of threats and severe declines in Scotland and around the globe, it was vital that action was taken to safeguard those nesting on the Shiants.

As well as the seabirds currently found on the islands, the Shiants offer suitable nesting habitat for European storm petrels and Manx shearwaters, two species of seabirds that are not generally found on islands with rats. Over the last two summers, the project has been working to encourage the storm petrels and Manx shearwaters to nest on the islands. The calling storm petrels, recorded on the islands last summer for the first time, gave a strong sign that the Shiants were free of rats ahead of this recent check.

Dr Charlie Main, Senior Project Manager for the Shiant Isles Recovery Project said: “This is an absolutely fantastic moment for the Shiant Isles and everyone involved in the project is delighted that they are now officially rat free. With so many of Scotland’s seabird populations in decline it’s vital that we do all we can to help them. Making these islands a secure place for them to breed is really important."