LIFE Raft Project

The next phase – eradication by air, land and sea

Friday 22/09/23

Blog from John Kelly, LIFE Raft Programme Manager

After years of build-up and two years of intensive preparation, we are finally here – at the eve of the world’s first ferret eradication project.

When we first began talking of removing rats and ferrets from Rathlin it felt like a pipe dream. Any eradication is always riddled with obstacles and we had never heard of anybody ever attempting to remove feral ferrets before. It’s also worth saying right up top that we are only able to attempt this eradication because of the Rathlin community. It’s a whole-island effort – we couldn’t have got this far without everybody’s buy-in, flexibility, and patience.

Now we’ve made it to the culmination of all those years’ of planning, where we need to give it our all to make sure the project has the best chance of success. What does that mean in practice?


By air – installing ropes

Working with rope access experts, we have been installing safety lines to climb down and across the cliffs. Ferrets are natural climbers and can travel far down the cliffs in search of food. We must go where they go – which means strapping on the rope harnesses.

We had several members of the team trained in this skilled work. It’s not easy, and Rathlin’s cliffs throw up all sorts of unexpected nooks and crannies. But the team has planned every descent, mapped routes by examining hundreds of photos, and know how to judge the weather conditions.


By land – cutting pathways and laying traps and trail cameras

Lydia and John have been cutting away at bracken and gorse that block the path to the cliffs. This is tough work, leaving them with their fair share of aches and scratches.

Our ferret team, lead by Dave and Michael, have been out placing the traps after doing careful cross-checking that every site is ready. The trucks get them most of the way and then it’s a matter of hoisting traps to their backs for the last leg so they can lay them out at meticulously planned grid.


By sea – dropping off traps on the north coast

It’s no easy task to carry traps to all corners of the island, particularly when some spots are at the bottom of steep inclines. Getting them there on foot would mean belaying down the side of cliffs with traps strapped to your back – not ideal.

This is where the sea comes in handy. A Rathlin islander with a boat was able to navigate through the swells of the north coast of the island with the traps on board, getting close enough to shore to hand over traps to the LIFE Raft team who had hiked, climbed, and lowered themselves in place to be waiting on land. A true team effort.


What can we expect over the coming weeks?

First off: weather delays and some more hard work. The combination of the Atlantic Ocean and the Irish Sea keep the weather interesting on Rathlin and it’s not always safe to abseil off cliffs, and rough weather can also halt us in our tracks. We’ll keep putting out more traps and trail cameras when we can as well as cracking on with some other strands of work, including:

– visiting St Mary’s Primary School to talk to the children about trap safety

– arranging for skips to take rubbish (aka rat and ferret hidey holes) off the island

– working with the RDCA to apply for funds to start the Community Garden and explore the potential for Rathlin to be a Dark Sky Community

The week of 9 October may also mark a big moment – we’re hoping the traps will go live. Right now the traps are ‘pre-baited’, meaning they have food in them but can’t be triggered. This is designed to make the ferrets more comfortable around the traps so they’re more likely to enter when they’re live. Once the traps go live we’ll start getting a real sense of the numbers and if we need to make any adjustments to the location or number of the traps.

We’ll keep updating here and on Twitter at @LIFERathlin, or on Facebook at @LIFE Raft. Or if you’re on Rathlin please join us at our next public talk on Wednesday the 27th, 7pm at St Thomas’.

Featured image credit: Ed Marshall/WMIL