Protecting native species


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Protecting native species

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Rathlin Island Special Protection Area (SPA) is designated for breeding:


Guillemot

(Uria aalge)



Peregrine

(Falco peregrinus)


Key information

Guillemot comes to land only to nest, spending the rest of its life at sea.

Dark brown and white, not as black as the similar razorbill, it has a ‘bridled’ form with a white ring round the eye and stripe behind it.

What they eat:

Fish and crustaceans

When to see them

Guillemots are best seen at the nesting colonies, from March to the end of July.

Key information

The peregrine is a large and powerful falcon. It has long, broad, pointed wings and a relatively short tail. It is blue-grey above, with a blackish top of the head and an obvious black ‘moustache’ that contrasts with its white face. Its breast is finely barred. It is swift and agile in flight, chasing prey.

The strongholds of the breeding birds in the UK are the uplands of the north and west and rocky seacoasts. Peregrines were at a low point in the 1960s due to human persecution and the impact of pesticides in the food chain. Improved legislation and protection has helped the birds to recover and they have now expanded into many urban areas.

However, they are still persecuted – birds are illegally killed to prevent predation on game birds and racing pigeons. They also have eggs and chicks taken for collections and falconry. Peregrines are a Schedule 1 listed species of The Wildlife and Countryside Act.

What they eat:

Medium-sized birds, such as wading birds, pigeons and small ducks.

AND FOR A BREEDING SEABIRD ASSEMBLAGE THAT ALSO INCLUDES:


Atlantic puffin

(Fratercula arctica)



Fulmar

(Fulmaris glacialis)



Shag

(Phalacrocorax aristotelis)



Eider duck

(Somateria mollissima)



Common Gull

(Larus canus)



Herring Gull

(Larus argentatus)



Lesser Gull

(Larus fuscus)


Rathlin also has corncrake (Crex crex), a top priority species for LIFE, and has previously held substantial populations of the EU Birds Directive Annex 1 species Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) and the migratory species Manx Shearwater (Puffinus puffinus).


Corncrake

(Crex crex)



Chough

(Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax)



Manx Shearwater

(Puffinus puffinus)


Puffins are unmistakable birds with their black back and white underparts, distinctive black head with large pale cheeks and their tall, flattened, brightly-coloured bill. Its comical appearance is heightened by its red and black eye-markings and bright orange legs.

Used as a symbol for books and other items, this is one of the world’s favourite birds. With half of the UK population at only a few sites it is a Red List species, officially Vulnerable to global extinction.

What they eat:

Fish, especially sandeels.

When to see them:

Adult puffins arrive back at the breeding colony in March and April and leave again in mid-August. Some remain in the North Sea at winter, others move further south to the Bay of Biscay.

Key information

Almost gull-like, this grey and white seabird is related to the albatrosses. The fulmar flies low over the sea on stiff wings, with shallow wingbeats, gliding and banking to show its white underparts then grey upperparts. At its breeding sites it will fly high up the cliff face, riding the updraughts. They will feed in flocks out at sea. They defend their nests from intruders by spitting out a foul-smelling oil.

What they eat:

Fish waste, crustaceans and sand eels.

Where and when to see them

The fulmar is always offshore, except when breeding. Found near all suitable cliffs. Fulmars are present at the breeding sites nearly all year, although young birds leave in late summer. Can be most easily seen offshore, away from breeding areas, from August to November.

Key information

Shags are goose-sized dark long-necked birds similar to cormorants but smaller and generally slimmer with a characteristic steep forehead. In the breeding season adults develop a dark glossy green plumage and prominent recurved crest on the front of their head.

In the UK they breed on coastal sites, mainly in the north and west, and more than half of their population is found at fewer than 10 sites, making them an Red List species. Shags usually stay within 100-200km of their breeding grounds.

What they eat:

Fish and occasionally crustacea and molluscs.

Where and when to see them

Shags can be seen all year round.

Key information

The eider is the UK’s heaviest duck and its fastest flying. It is a true seaduck, rarely found away from coasts where its dependence on coastal molluscs for food has brought it into conflict with mussel farmers. Eiders are highly gregarious and usually stay close inshore, riding the swell in a sandy bay or strung out in long lines out beyond the breaking waves. It is an Amber List species because of its winter concentrations.

What they eat:

Shellfish, especially mussels.

Where and when to see them:

Eiders can be seen all year round in breeding areas. On coasts to the south of the breeding range, birds can be seen from autumn and stay there for the winter.

Key information

The common gull looks like a small, gentler version of the herring gull, with greenish legs and a yellow bill. Despite its name, it is not at all common in most inland areas, though it can be abundant on the coast and in some eastern counties. They are now seen more often in towns and on housing estates in winter.

What they eat:

Worms, insects, fish, carrion and rubbish.

Where and when to see them

The common gull can be seen all year round.

Key information

Herring gulls are large, noisy gulls found throughout the year around our coasts and inland around rubbish tips, fields, large reservoirs and lakes, especially during winter.

Adults have light grey backs, white under parts, and black wing tips with white ‘mirrors’. Their legs are pink, with webbed feet and they have heavy, slightly hooked bills marked with a red spot. Young birds are mottled brown.

This species is on the red list due to ongoing population declines and wintering population declines.

What they eat:

Ominivorous- carrion, offal, seeds, fruits, young birds, eggs, small mammals, insects and fish.

When to see them

You can see herring gulls all year round.

Key information

Slightly smaller than a herring gull, the lesser black-backed gull has a dark grey to black back and wings, yellow bill and yellow legs. Their world population is found entirely in Europe. After declines in the 19th century due to persecution they increased their range and numbers. This expansion has now halted and there is serious concern about declines in many parts of its range. The species is on the Amber List because the UK is home to 40 per cent of the European population and more than half of these are found at fewer than ten sites.

What they eat:

Omnivore – scavenges a wide range of food.

When to see them

You can see lesser black-backed gulls all year round. UK breeding sites are left in July and August and birds start to return as early as December. Large numbers of Scandinavian birds, which are darker than UK breeding birds, start to arrive in October.

Key information

Corncrakes are related to moorhens, coots and rails but differ from most members of the family in that they live on dry land. Corncrakes are surprisingly small; they are only a little bigger than a blackbird. This Schedule 1 species is very secretive, spending most of its time hidden in tall vegetation, its presence only betrayed by its rasping call.

In flight, their bright chestnut wings and trailing legs are unmistakable. They are summer visitors and migrate to Africa for the winter.

What they eat:

Insects and seeds.

When to see them

The corncrake arrives from mid-April and leaves again in August and September. They are best located by call which can be heard both day and night.

Key information

While its black plumage identifies it as a crow, the chough (pronounced ‘chuff’) has a red bill and legs unlike any other member of the crow family. It is restricted to the west of the British Isles.

It readily displays its mastery of flight with wonderful aerial displays of diving and swooping. This Schedule 1 species can be found in flocks in autumn and winter.

What they eat:

Insects and larvae.

When to see them

Chough are rare right now so if you do see them, please report them.

Key information

The Manx shearwater is a small shearwater, with long straight slim wings, with black above and white below. It flies with a series of rapid stiff-winged flaps followed by long glides on stiff straight wings over the surface of the sea, occasionally banking or ‘shearing’.

It breeds in colonies in the UK, on offshore islands where it is safe from rats and other ground predators. Birds leave their nest sites in July, to migrate to the coast of South America, where they spend the winter, returning in late February and March.

What they eat:

Fish, especially herrings, sardines and sprats.

When to see them

You can see Manx shearwaters in spring and autumn during their migration,

The integrity of the SPA is threatened by brown rats (Rattus norvegicus) and ferrets (Mustela furo).

Both are invasive non-native species on Rathlin, with rats introduced in the 19th century and ferrets released in the mid-1980s. Predation by rats and ferrets is believed to have been responsible, either fully or partly, for the significant declines in many of the island’s seabirds and a range of small mammals, invertebrates and plants. As well as harming biodiversity, rats and ferrets affect the human community on Rathlin through the risk of transmission of diseases and damage to peoples’ homes and smallholdings.

 

By removing the rats and ferrets and decreasing the likelihood of their return, the LIFE Raft project will benefit Rathlin’s community as well as its wildlife. Many hundreds of islands around the world have been restored in this way, but Rathlin Island will be the first where a feral ferret eradication is attempted. It will also be one of the largest islands in the world to be cleared of rats without the use of helicopters and one of the most populous islands to be restored, too. Together, these factors make LIFE Raft a ground-breaking project that is of international significance.

 

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Protecting native species