Tag Archives: Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

Seabird Recovery Programme

Britain has internationally important breeding sites for some seabirds, particularly Manx Shearwaters and Storm Petrels. Well, I say Britain, but actually it’s much more specific than that. These birds are quite particular in their choice of breeding sites, and our crowded mainland doesn’t really tick the right boxes. It’s the small islands with few humans (if any) that stand out at the seabird estate agents. Like the Isles of Scilly. But numbers of breeding seabirds have been declining even on these idyllic islands, falling by 25% between 1983 and 2006. Something needed to be done.

The Isles of Scilly Seabird Recovery Programme was set up to reverse this trend. It’s a partnership between various groups, including the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust and the RSPB. One of the factors in the decline was the presence of rats on the island. Rats prey on the eggs and young of breeding seabirds, and can have a huge affect on breeding success. Lundy, a small island in the Bristol Channel, saw a big increase in seabirds breeding resulting from their rat elimination programme. So one of the aims of the Isles of Scilly programme is to eliminate rats from the uninhabited islands, and St Agnes and Gugh.

Looking from St Agnes to the Gugh
Looking from St Agnes to the Gugh

After lots of consultation and preparation, intensive rat culling started in 2013, on St Agnes. Bait stations with poison were placed all over the island. Now they think all the rats have gone, they’re in a period of monitoring, using chocolate flavoured blocks of wax to check for rat teeth marks. There’s been lots of communication with island residents and visitors, and people are encouraged to report any possible rat sightings (to rat on a rat). The island has to be free from signs of rats for two years before it can officially be declared that rats have been eliminated. If all goes well, that landmark will be reached next year.

They’ve already seen benefits from the reduction in rats. In 2014 Manx Shearwaters have been breeding successfully on St Agnes, and this year storm petrel chicks were seen on St Agnes, both for the first time in living memory. Other¬† ground nesting birds are also likely to benefit, and Scilly shrew numbers have also increased.

Puffins landing gracefully(!)
Puffins landing gracefully(!)
Oyster catcher
Oyster catcher

This project is a good example of conservation groups working together with a whole community to have a big impact. It wouldn’t be possible to eliminate rats without the support of the community. Lots of work has gone into communicating about the programme, and about the importance of seabirds, to both tourists and locals. That work is now paying off. Well done to all involved.


Bird nerd part 8: Big Garden Birdwatch 2015

The last weekend in January was the annual Big Garden Birdwatch, when hundreds of thousands of people from across the UK record the numbers of birds they see in one hour. This year I was down in Cornwall that weekend, staying with my parents, so there were four pairs of eyes to keep watch.

The list of what we saw is a little different from what I’d expect if we were at home (see my report on last year’s birdwatch). Here’s what we saw down in Cornwall:

Great British Birdwatch results from my parents' garden
Great British Birdwatch results from my parents’ garden
  • 4 Blackbirds (we usually get a couple)
  • 2 Bluetits
  • 4 Chaffinches (we rarely get chaffinches)
  • 2 Dunnock
  • 2 Great tits
  • 3 House sparrows (we’d beat them on sparrows)
  • 2 Magpies
  • 3 Robins (we usually only get 1)
  • 30 Starlings (We rarely see more than 10 at home)
  • 1 Woodpigeon (we’d beath them on woodies as well – we usually get 2 or 3)
  • 1 Wren
  • 1 Greater spotted woodpecker (We’ve never seen a woodpecker in our garden)
  • 25 Rooks (there’s a rookery in the trees by their house)

No collared doves though – we usually get 2 or 3.

Blue tit
Blue tit
Great tit
Great tit
This chaffinch is too fast for me!
This chaffinch is too fast for me!

Later this year they’ll release the full results, which will give a useful snapshot of how the nation’s birds are doing.


Only connect: children and nature

This week the RSPB launched a report about children’s connection with nature. This looked at empathy for creatures, having a sense of oneness with nature, having a sense of responsibility for the environment and enjoyment of nature. According to a survey of 1,200 children from the UK, conducted as part of the research, only one in five children had a good connection to nature. If you would like to see how connected you are with nature, you can take the survey here.

Being connected with nature is important for all of us. Previous work done by the RSPB has suggested that spending time in nature is good for us both mentally and physically. But it’s also really important that children have a good connection with nature, as if they don’t value it then they are not going to look after it when they are older.

Reading about this report made me think back to my own childhood, and try and work out why I became interested in nature. I can’t think of a damascene experience, but a few early memories do stand out.

Frogs and slow worms
I remember spending lots of time playing in the garden when I was young, chasing frogs and finding slow worms. I was surprised a few years ago, when Fat Cat brought in a frog, how hesitant I was about picking it up. I certainly had none of that squeamishness when I was a child!

Acorn treasure
The infant school I went to used the park as a playground. There were some magnificent oaks in the park, and I remember each year gathering acorns as treasure. Green ones still in their cups were the ones I prized most. All these years later the sight of an oak tree laden with acorns still thrills me, and I often can’t resist gathering a few acorns.

Wildlife Watch
When I was a bit older my mother’s godmother bought me membership of Wildlife Watch (the Wildlife Trusts’ club for children). I remember a brilliant weekend on Dartmoor, learning to identify antiseptic moss, dambusting, visiting a badger rehabilitation centre, and going for a midnight walk on the moors.

Reading animal stories

I was always an avid reader, and I think the animal stories I read as a child played an important part in getting me interested in wildlife. I’m sure some experts look down on anthropomorphicised animals in children’s books, but I think beautiful stories like the Brambly Hedge books, Wind in the Willows, and later the Animals of Farthing Woods and Duncton Woods can help children learn to love wildlife and nature.

Nature is fascinating and beautiful and disgusting enough to capture the imagination of any child, given a chance. I’m determined to help my god daughter and nephew to grow up connected to nature. I want to give them a chance to experience the wonder and joy of exploring our natural world. I’m not sure where to start, but I have a few ideas.

Were you connected to nature as a child? What got you interested in wildlife?