Rats and ferrets are being hunted to protect the seabirds on Rathlin Island


Puffins probably come to mind when you think of Rathlin Island.   .

The race is on to defend the colorful ground-nester from predators before the scales tip, though, with numbers down by 40% since 1999.   .

Now, in a first for the world, rats and ferrets will be trapped as part of a new project to drive non-natives off the island.

450 traps with wireless monitoring and 6,000 bait stations are being installed across the island this winter after a year of planning.   .

A ferret on Rathlin Island
It is thought that in the 1980s, ferrets were introduced to Rathlin Island.

By 2026, all ferrets and rats should be gone, making the island once again a haven for seabirds that are important globally for breeding.   .

Along with puffins, there are guillemots, fulmars, razorbills, kittiwakes, and Manx shearwaters.

Beyond the five-year, £40.5 million LIFE Raft project, monitoring will be done to maintain biosecurity.

More than a century ago, rats most likely came ashore on boats.   .

Ferrets, however, who are ferocious and effective hunters, were deliberately released to reduce the number of rabbits.   .

The seabirds and their young soon caught the attention of both species.   .

They have spread throughout the island, and RSPB warden Liam McFaul is concerned that things are about to get out of hand.   .

Without some sort of predator control mechanism, he warned, there might come a time when there aren't many puffins left on Rathlin.

He has spent his entire life on the island and has worked with the RSPB for more than 30 years to monitor seabirds.   .

"I can't imagine a time when these seabirds won't exist or when the population will drastically change.

Since Rathlin is an offshore island, it should be safe, he said, making it a crucial and strategic location for seabird nesting.

A group of individuals, including conservation scientist James Crymble, spent the entire year surveying the island and getting ready for this enormous task.   .

"Rathlin is actually quite a large island, and it's also quite diverse; there are many different habitats and geographical features there. It's going to be a huge job and the weather's pretty nasty," he said.

The best strategy is to create a grid that covers the entire island. ".

This calls for setting a trap every 250 meters, which is the distance a single ferret will travel.   .

Everywhere will need to be targeted, including the grassy ledges strewn along the cliffs, according to James; this task calls for intense training.

There will be a ton, including, obviously, abseiling, rope access techniques, off-roading techniques, all-terrain vehicles, and first aid.

"By the time it's over, we'll be a top-tier force. "  .

Michael Cecil
The Rathlin ferry is commanded by Michael Cecil.

And all of that will happen in the winter, he continued. Therefore, this is by far the worst season for us to be out and about. ".

However, the winter months are the best for hunting predators because they will be starving as their prey migrates away from the island.   .

In addition to protecting seabirds, we must also protect people.   .

The island's economy is reliant on the tens of thousands of tourists who come here each year to see the wildlife.   .

Rathlin Island
Seabirds abound along Rathlin Island's cliffs.

People on Rathlin are vehemently in favor of the project, despite the fact that conservation like this – eradicating one species to protect another – can be contentious.   .

Michael Cecil, chair of the Rathlin Development and Community Association, stated that "the island residents have begun to realize this.".   .

"There is an increasing amount of interest from scientific communities and other islands that have similar interests. So yeah, we're starting to get some attention, and islanders are starting to talk about this project more and more. ".

On the Isles of Scilly, in the Shiants off Scotland, and most recently on Gough Island in the south Atlantic, similar projects have been carried out.

However, this is the first time that ferrets will be the focus of such a conservation initiative.   .

The removal of these animals is not cheap, but it is very beneficial for the local wildlife, according to James.   .

Nature is in trouble. The topic at hand is climate change. The best way to truly protect the island for future generations and just give them a little bit of a buffer zone to face these generalized global problems is to address the issue of overfishing at sea. ".

Although it will take some time for the populations to recover, Liam McFaul is optimistic at the seabird center in Rathlin's upside-down lighthouse.   .

"Seabirds are a species that live very long lives, and you're eliminating the predators. The number of birds won't suddenly increase dramatically the following year; it will take some time for them to swell.

"The mixed seabird colony at Rathlin is critically important globally. 22,000 razorbills and 150,000 guillemots are breeding birds that are literally sat on the cliffs.   .

"When you look out at the sea, it's just swarming with birds, and when you look up in the air, they're flying everywhere.   .

Therefore, a census of these birds only takes into account what is perched on eggs and on cliffs. There are many thousands more who are not included in the count.   .

"Therefore, over the coming years, there will be a ton of monitoring to see how the absence of predators affects the environment.

. "

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