Canna seabird recovery project
Start date: Jan 8, 2005,
End date: May 31, 2008
The islands of Canna and Sanday, as well as being a Site of Special Scientific Interest, qualify as a Special Protection Area (SPA) by regularly supporting more than 20 000 individuals of 13 species of seabirds. Breeding success had fallen and seabird numbers decreased severely from about 21 000 breeding seabirds in 1995 to about 14 000 in 2004. This decline was due to increasing levels of predation of eggs and chicks by introduced brown rats (Rattus norvegicus). The Manx shearwater (Puffinus puffinus) had almost disappeared from the islands as a breeding bird. Only one seabird, the black-legged kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla), was increasing in number on the islands and only in areas where it nests on vertical cliffs inaccessible to rats.
Such decreases in seabird populations have important socio-economic implications since the principal source of revenue and employment on the islands is the tourist trade. The decline in seabirds and the presence of large numbers of rats around houses would adversely affect this trade.
The overall objective of the project was to halt the decline in the internationally important seabird populations breeding on the islands of Canna and Sanday and to facilitate their recovery and long-term protection.
The main part of the project would focus on rat eradication. A programme of action would consist of establishing and maintaining a grid of bait stations containing poisoned bait to kill rats during the winter of 2005/06, and if necessary the following winter. Mitigating actions to reduce the threat of accidental or secondary poisoning of non-target wild and domestic mammals or birds would include specific eradication designs and diversionary feeding of raptors to reduce the likelihood of scavenging on dead rats.
Planned supporting actions included the establishment of rat-proof waste management, freight and quarantine procedures and long-term rat surveillance, coupled with a contingency plan for action in the event of a rat being accidentally reintroduced to the islands. A comprehensive local and national programme was foreseen to raise public awareness of issues relating to conservation of seabirds, the Natura 2000 network and problems of introduced species.
The main objective of the project was achieved, and the island was declared rat free in March 2008. The successful eradication of brown rats from the islands of Canna and Sanday means that seabirds now have breeding sites free of introduced alien mammal predators. This means that if food supplies in the surrounding seas return to normal, Canna seabirdsâ populations will be able to return to the levels recorded in the mid-1990s when the island was declared an SPA under EU legislation. Signs of increased breeding success of shags Phalacrocorax aristotelis, razorbills Alca torda and puffins Fratercula arctica have already been noticed and the first successful breeding in over 10 years of Manx shearwater Puffinus puffinus was recorded in 2006.
Other key results included the establishment of rat-proof waste management, freight and quarantine procedures and long-term rat surveillance, coupled with a contingency plan for action in the event of a rat being accidentally reintroduced to the islands.
It was important to demonstrate that action can be taken to ensure that Natura 2000 sites, which have suffered a loss of biodiversity can be managed in a way that reverses the cause of the decline. Such expertise needs to be shared with the managers of other action plans for Natura 2000 sites.
Finally, the project raised public awareness of issues relating to conservation of seabirds, the Natura 2000 network and problems of introduced species. The beneficiary, the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) and landowners of the island will continue to pursue the objectives of the project as part of the After LIFE Plan.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Conservation Plan (see "Read more" section).
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