Remote isles now officially rat free

A remote island colony has been declared officially rat free in a move which could boost seabird populations.

A four year long project has been ongoing to remove rats from the Shiant Isles, a cluster of islands five miles east of the Isle of Lewis and Harris in the Outer Hebrides.

The islands form one of the most important seabird breeding colonies in Europe, providing a home for around 100,000 pairs of nesting seabirds each year.

But it was feared that rats on the islands were feeding on eggs and chicks of the birds that breed there,  including puffins, razorbills, and guillemots.

With seabird populations facing severe decline in Scotland work began to remove  the invasive, non-native black rats that were found on the Shiant Isles.

The work is part of the  EU Life+ funded Shiants seabird recovery project, which commenced in 2014 and is a partnership between the Nicolson family, who have been the custodians of the islands for three generations, Scottish Natural Heritage and RSPB Scotland.

A month-long monitoring programme in February found no evidence of rats - meaning none of the creatures have been recorded on the Isles for two years, meeting the internationally agreed criterion for rat-free status.

It is now hoped the puffins, razorbills and guillemots will enjoy more successful breeding seasons, and that Manx shearwaters and storm petrels could also start to nest on the islands as well

Dr Charlie Main, senior project manager for the Shiant Isles Recovery Project said: "This is an absolutely fantastic moment for the Shiant Isles and everyone involved in the project is delighted that they are now officially rat free.

"With so many of Scotland's seabird populations in decline it's vital that we do all we can to help them. Making these islands a secure place for them to breed is really important.

"Over the next few years we're really looking forward to seeing the full impact of the islands' restoration flourish with the seabirds enjoying improved breeding successes, and other species beginning to breed there as well.

"We'll also continue to work with the local community to ensure this special place remains free of rats. This project has paved the way for more island restorations to take place around Scotland and give our threatened seabirds the best possible chance for the future."

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