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You are in: Devon > Nature > Nature Features > Lundy puffins back from the brink

Puffins on a ledge

Puffins on a ledge

Lundy puffins back from the brink

There's good news for the puffin colony on Lundy Island which had been under threat from an invasion of rats. A two year operation to eradicate the island's 40,000 rat population appears to have been a success.

Hopes that puffins on Lundy Island will thrive again have been boosted by news that the island has now been free of rats for more than a year.

In 2003 conservationists began an operation to eradicate tens of thousands of rats from Lundy in a bid to save two rare species of seabird from extinction.

Rats eat puffin eggs and chicks, and it had feared that Lundy's rapidly growing rat population was behind the drastic reduction in the numbers.

But the two year cull of rats on Lundy appears to have been a success and that's good news for the puffin population.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds says rats haven't been spotted on the island for more than 12 months now, and it's confident by the end of the year it will be able to declare the island rat free.

Lundy Island

Lundy Island from the air

Lundy, a granite outcrop just three miles long and half-a-mile wide off the North Devon coast in the Bristol Channel, is home to a variety of protected plants and animals.

But two of its most important seabirds - the puffin and Manx shearwater - were being plagued by the island's rat population, which experts feared had reached 40,000.

It is thought the rodents arrived on the island about 200 years ago from wrecked ships. Since then they have terrorised the seabird population.

However a controversial cull appears to have succeeded and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) says four puffin burrows are now occupied.

Peter Exley from the RSPB said: "Hopefully by the end of next winter we're going to be able to officially declare the island rat free.

"The puffins are long lived birds - it takes four or five years for them to reach breeding age.

"It'll probably be a decade or more before we see a significant increase in puffins and other birds."

The society is also very excited about the sighting of a manx shearwater whose only other British nest is on the Isles of Scilly.

Puffin

A Lundy puffin admires the view

In the meantime the RSPB is urging visitors to Lundy to be very careful they do not re-introduce rats to the island by accident.

The Lundy Seabird Project was a partnership between the RSPB, The Landmark Trust - which administers Lundy, the National Trust and English Nature.

The £50,000 operation to exterminate the rats saw thousands of specially designed traps baited with poison laid in a strategic grid across Lundy.

Stuart Burgess, a spokesman for English Nature , said the rats were feeding on the birds' eggs and chicks - leaving them close to extinction.

He said puffin numbers on Lundy had fallen from more than 3,500 pairs in 1939 to less than 10 pairs in 2000.

And he said the population of Manx shearwaters on the island was only running at 8% of its potential.

"There was something serious happening to the seabirds on Lundy," said Mr Burgess.

"And it was bad enough to take the birds to the point of extinction. The rats were pushing the birds over the brink."

Article updated: 9th June 2005

last updated: 22/02/2008 at 11:05
created: 13/06/2005

You are in: Devon > Nature > Nature Features > Lundy puffins back from the brink

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