European taxpayers are set to bear the brunt of a GBP 450,000 private island pest control operation, as work begins to introduce two rare bird species to Scotland’s Shiant Island.
According to recent reports in The Stornoway Gazette, The European Union has earmarked GBP 450,000 of public funds for a pest control operation within the privately-owned Shiant Island Group in the Outer Hebrides (Scotland). The decision comes as part of new pan-European conservation plans to introduce new rare avian species and safeguard existing bird colonies.
The Shiant Islands already form one of Europe’s most important seabird breeding sites, supporting 10% of Britain’s puffin population and 7% of its razorbills. Yet despite hosting an estimated 150,000 winged guests every year, it seems that the island group’s status as a safe habitat for birds is at threat, thanks to an invasion of non-native rodent species.
The thousands of black rats – who most likely found their way ashore after a series of shipwrecks near the islands in the early 20th century – pose a serious threat to Shiant’s avian population, eating seabird eggs, young chicks and generally forming a hindrance to the island group’s otherwise successful conservation initiatives. Removing them from the islands would therefore have demonstrable benefits.
The island’s owner, Lord Carnock, has been working to form a so-called biosecurity plan together with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) for some time now, and was reportedly delighted to hear that the European Union had agreed to lend its assistance.
Speaking on behalf of Lord Carnock, Andy Douse, SNH’s Shiant Seabird Recovery Project ornithologist, said: “This is an exciting project that will address the problems facing one of Scotland’s finest concentrations of breeding seabirds. It will provide us with a better understanding of rat control methods that can be used more widely and it will promote better biosecurity for islands that remain or have been cleared of invasive rats.”
If successful, the elimination of Shiant Island’s invasive rat population will also pave the way for the introduction of two new avian species: the European storm petrel and Manx shearwater. Currently threatened by the effects of climate change and a shortage of suitable breeding sites, it is hoped that the species will be able to flourish within Shiant’s remote and unspoiled landscape.
Adam Nicolson – son of Lord Carnock and current custodian of the islands – issued the following statement within The Stornoway Gazette: “This is a great opportunity to return the Shiants to what they should be: full of life, bird species and resilient in the face of future threats. We hope that as a result of this very exciting project, generations of people will come to know the islands as they should principally be known –one of the greatest hubs of Atlantic seabird life.”
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