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Scilly sea birds get big funding boost

18/01/2013 17:36:46

It is the prospect of glimpsing rare species such as the storm petrel that attracts many visitors to these shores. Photo credit RSPB

Isles of Scilly seabird recovery project gets green light

January 2013. A major new 25 year partnership project to provide a safe future for internationally important seabird populations on the Isles of Scilly has been given the green light with major funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and the EU LIFE programme being secured.

14 species of sea bird
The islands are home to breeding populations of 14 species and approximately 20,000 birds. This includes storm petrel and Manx shearwater for which the UK has a global responsibility. Since 1983 though these populations have been in decline and one out of four birds lost.

The project has a number of aims including the protection and restoration of seabird islands, increasing the number of people actively involved in seabird conservation, and enabling the islands to make the most of these assets by providing better access and enjoyment for people, which provides the income for islanders that will help secure the future of these birds.

One of the major threats to the seabirds is predation of eggs and chicks by rats. Work over the last 15 years on the uninhabited islands has left them rat-free but further work is required to maintain them as seabird friendly. With the support of the local community, conservationists now have the same ambition for the inhabited islands of St Agnes and Gugh.

The project will be managed by a coalition of groups including RSPB, Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust, Natural England, Duchy of Cornwall the Isles of Scilly Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) partnership and a representative from the islands, with support from the Isles of Scilly Bird Group. A project manager has recently been appointed.

The successful removal of rats from the uninhabited island of St. Helen’s resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of Manx shearwaters breeding there. Photo credit Chris Gomersall/RSPB.

The successful removal of rats from the uninhabited island of St. Helen’s resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of Manx shearwaters breeding there. Photo credit Chris Gomersall/RSPB.

Paul St Pierre, RSPB Conservation Officer, said; "As well as seeking to bolster the population of seabirds, we want our project to involve more people in the celebration, enjoyment and protection of the islands' seabird heritage."

"The Isles of Scilly has long traded rightly on the quality of its natural environment and seabirds are a major element of that. Who can imagine a trip here in spring or summer, for instance, without trying to see the puffins? We want this project to help these islands make more of their seabird heritage and to strengthen still further its image as a seabird-friendly destination through the use of various media, including web technology, for an ever wider audience.

"Those involved will be working closely with the local community to help them make the most of this important part of the islands' economy. In sharing this experience with similar communities elsewhere, we hope this will encourage and support others in giving their seabirds a brighter future."

David Mawer, Senior Conservation Warden, Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust said: "This is a very exciting project and will bring many benefits to wildlife, locals and visitors, and crucially it will safeguard Annet, Scilly's most important seabird reserve. The successful removal of rats from the uninhabited island of St. Helen's resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of Manx shearwaters breeding there. The eerie cries and shadowy silhouettes of seabirds at dusk could soon be another wildlife spectacle enjoyed by locals and visitors on St. Agnes. To hear storm petrels singing magically from within the boulder beaches would be really wonderful. Seabirds already attract visitors to Scilly, and this project and the clever use of technology can reveal more of their fascinating lives, whilst leaving the seabirds free from unwanted disturbance."

The project is funded jointly by HLF, who announced their award today, and the EU LIFE Nature Programme, Natural England, Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust, Duchy of Cornwall and Isles of Scilly AONB's Sustainable Development Fund.

Speaking for HLF, Richard Bellamy, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund South West, said "We have some wonderful native wildlife on the Isles of Scilly and collectively we have a responsibility for its survival. It is the prospect of glimpsing rare species, such as the storm petrel and Manx shearwater, that attracts many visitors to our shores bringing much-needed tourist income to our rural communities. This project gives us all the opportunity to learn more about seabirds and the role they place in the Isle of Scilly's biodiversity and help secure their future."

Mr Angelo Salsi, Head of the LIFE Nature Unit within the European Commission said; "I am delighted that EU life funding will allow restoration of the islands for the benefit of seabirds. These islands form a vital part of the Isles of Scilly Special Protection Area, which in turn is part of the EU-wide Natura 2000 network of sites, including all the best and most valuable examples of our common European natural heritage. The work that the team will carry out will be of great benefit to the seabirds that breed on St Agnes, Gugh and the neighbouring island of Annet, and will also help to improve the quality of life of the people who live on St Agnes and Gugh."

The project will start in early 2013.

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