LIFE Raft Project

Seabirds

A fresh reminder reinforces our resolve

Friday 8/12/23

From John Kelly, LIFE Raft Senior Programme Manager

With 2024 fast approaching we have a fresh reminder of why our mission is so important.

Seabirds continue to struggle

LIFE Raft’s scientists have been poring over our spring and summer monitoring data. These numbers are telling us a complex but sad tale for seabirds, including Puffins. Last year, only about a third (37%) of Puffin chicks survived to leave the nest. In good conditions, we would expect about three-quarters to survive.

Many factors can affect chick survival. The climate crisis is making it harder for Puffins to find food, for example. It is inevitable, however, that part of these dangerously low numbers is because of predation by invasive non-native species.

Promising early trapping numbers

The data reinforce what we already knew – Puffins and other seabirds need help, and quickly. On Rathlin, Puffins have already been forced to nest far down the cliffs to evade ferrets, but there are very few places on island that a rat cannot reach.

This reminder comes as we reach a milestone of sorts. 98* ferrets have now been caught on island through project and community trapping. Given that the catching rate has slowed right down and there have been fewer and fewer sightings of tracks and scat, we are cautiously optimistic that the first push of the project has been a success.

New year, new focus

Progress in eradications can feel bitter-sweet. This is not a celebration, instead a grateful recognition that the hard but necessary task of eradicating ferrets appears to be on the right track.

Come January, we will start the intensive process of trying to find any last ferrets. If a single male and female pair remains, they will repopulate. But we have the team, the tools, the amazing support of the Rathlin community, and we’re ready to go.

As LIFE Raft moves into a period of intensive monitoring for ferrets, with each passing day, our team will also focus more on the rat eradication project.

When will we know the outcome?

We always know proving the absence of ferrets on Rathlin will be a real challenge for our team. While we are confident we are on the right track, we will not be able to say with certainty that we’ve been successful until spring 2025.

How can you help?

Local knowledge and efforts of islanders is, as it has always been, invaluable – so if you do see a ferret, please let us know through the form on our website.

A big thank you to the Rathlin community, interested members of the public, the LIFE Raft team, and of course our funders and donors for your continued help and support.

 

Featured image: Puffin on cliff side, Rathlin Island. Richard Carlyon (rspb-images.com)

LIFE Raft is a partnership between RSPB NI; Rathlin Development and Community Association; Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council; National Parks and Wildlife Service; Causeway Coast and Glens Heritage Trust; and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.
This project is funded by EU LIFE [LIFE20 NAT/UK/000349]; National Lottery Heritage Fund; and DAERA.

* corrected to 98 from a previous MS Excel double counting error.