Forum News 33 article: Beaver Island Group Restoration Project
Cobb's Wren Conservation Project: Rat Eradication Report: Tea Island (860 KB)
The impact of invasive predators of Norway rats Rattus norvegicus across most islands in the Falkland Islands and of Patagonian grey foxes Dusicyon griseus on six islands on the native wildlife has resulted in local extinctions of native bird populations, and particularly of tussacbirds, small burrowing petrels (thin-billed prions, common diving-petrels, grey-backed storm-petrels) and the endemic Cobb's Wrens. It has also resulted in the alteration of many plant communities.
Nearly all the islands in the Falklands are grazed by livestock, but apart from 300 sheep and 60 reindeer on Beaver Island (3900 ha), grazing ceased in the Beaver Island Group over 20 years ago. Consequently, the Beaver Island Group is prime remnant wildlife habitat. It is a stronghold for a number of plant species and communities, namely tussac grass, mountain bluegrass and boxwood scrub, which are susceptible to over-grazing and are scare elsewhere. Tea Island has the largest stand of a currently unidentified species of Calandrinia. The Beaver Island Group holds predominantly coastal habitats, which are the most botanically rich habitats in the Falklands.
Beaver Island Group has been designated as an IBA (FK002) and contains significant populations of endemic Falkland steamer ducks, southern giant petrels, Magellanic penguins and gentoo penguins. In terms of abundance and diversity of wildlife habitat, the area is of high national ecological significance, despite wildlife populations being significantly compromised by the presence of rats on twelve of the islands, and on two of these, both rats and foxes. As the Beaver Island Group is managed by one landowner for conservation values, invasive species remain the only real threat to the biodiversity.
Removing these predators from all twelve islands will restore the archipelago's wildlife habitats and create optimal conditions for native wildlife species to re-establish, notably the endemic Cobb's Wrens and also tussac birds, Magellanic snipes, Ruddy-headed geese, dark-faced ground tyrants and Falkland Grass Wrens. It will allow potential recolonisation of suitable habitat by burrowing petrels, and there will be rapid expansion of populations of all bird species on those islands where foxes are removed.
Jerome and Sally Poncet attempted to eradicate foxes using Foxoff poison on Beaver Island during 1997-99. Foxes were reduced to less than a dozen bait-shy foxes and huge ecological benefits were noted immediately. The project failed at the last hurdle because there was "at the time" a lack of technical capacity to complete vertebrate eradication programs worldwide. Since 2000, capacity worldwide has developed and a variety of ambitious eradication projects conducted in the last three years has been successful, including the eradication of rats from Campbell Island (11,300 ha), cats from Macquarie Island (87,500 ha) and pigs from Isla Santiago (58,500 ha) in Galapagos Islands.
The success of these projects revolved around the use of a tracker dog to locate the remaining few animals. For this reason, the involvement from the outset of the proposed project of eradication experts is critical in building the fox eradication operational plans. The exact details of the fox eradication programme are still to be determined as there is no one standard method as there is for rat eradication.
Although the fox eradication project ultimately failed on Beaver Island, the efforts of Jerome and Sally Poncet raised awareness of the real threat of invasive species to biodiversity across the Falkland Islands. Between 1999 and 2001, Falklands Conservation, a non-governmental organisation in the Falklands, with the help of New Zealand consultants, prepared a "Priority list of islands where rats should be eradicated". By 2005, 18 islands (481 ha), including all top priority islands, were successfully cleared by Falklands Conservation staff with the help from often short-term visitors to the islands.
The islands identified for rat and fox eradication in this proposed project include one of the four 2nd priority island groups and four of the seven lower priority island groups. The lessons learnt from the eradication of each island will not only build the capacity of the field operators involved in the project but also for eradication operators in the Falkland Islands and aboard.
In 2005, a community workshop to identify and prioritise risks to Falkland Islands biodiversity identified that non native species were a moderate risk but there was moderate chance of the success of conservation actions. The prioritisation was fed into the draft "Conservation and Biodiversity Strategy for the Falkland Islands", which details action plans for a number of endemic and threatened species and habitats.
The Beaver Island Group Restoration Project will enable:
- Habitat restoration of endemic and native wildlife habitats and species on seven islands in the southwest sector of the Falklands.
- Develop the skills and economic opportunities of Falkland Islands farmers.
- Develop the capacity for an operational plan to attempt an eradication of invasive species from the largest island, in the longer term.
- Clearance of Norway rats from seven islands ranging from 4 to 300 ha and additionally of Patagonian grey foxes from one of these islands.
- Collection of spatial data on wildlife and habitat from pre-and post-baiting ecological surveys, archived in a GIS compatible format.
- Provide opportunities for up to eight local farmers in island restoration.
- Raised awareness of habitat restoration for local residents and international visitors to the Falkland Islands.
- Operational plan for fox and rat eradication of Beaver Island and also possibly, nearby Weddell Island.
- Pre-baiting ecological surveys of wildlife habitats and species, and of rats and foxes, will be conducted in February 2007.
- Survey data will be archived in a GIS compatible format, with the assistance of Synergy Information Systems, a local computing business.
- After an assessment of the sites by a visiting eradication expert in April 2007, operational eradication plans will be prepared by the Project Officer and evaluated by an eradication expert located overseas.
- Four islands - Channel Islands (54 ha), Little Coffin Island (24 ha), Green Island (24 ha), and Stick-in-the-Mud Island (4 ha) will be eradicated of rats during winter 2007 using a brodifacoum based poison, which is not taken by other animals in the Falkland Islands.
- Three islands - Governor Island (250 ha), Skull Bay Island (5 ha) and Tea Island (300 ha) will be eradicated of rats. A fox eradication programme will get underway on Tea Island during winter 2008 (but a full eradication may not be completed by the end of the OTEP project in April 2009). This will involve use of Foxoff, a 1080 based poison, and subsequently, a tracker dog.
- An operational plan for eradicating foxes on Beaver Island will be prepared based on the information provided by the Tea Island fox eradication.
- Post-baiting wildlife surveys and checks for rats and foxes will be conducted during summer and winter in 2009 and 2010.
- Throughout the project, liaison and collaboration with other eradication projects in the region will occur.
- Publicity will be conducted as the project develops, using local media sources and also through a web site, which will be prepared with the assistance of Synergy Information Systems.
- A Video/PowerPoint presentation about habitat restoration in the Falkland Islands will be produced, with assistance from Synergy Information Systems, for public lectures, both locally and on board international visiting cruise vessels.
- Landowner - Beaver Island Farm has prepared the work programme with all groups currently involved with habitat restoration in the South Atlantic.
- Falkland Islands farming community - The proposed project has been discussed with various farming networks in the islands, including the Rural Business Association.
- Falklands Conservation - Beaver Island Farm has been part of the Falklands Conservation-led "Falkland Islands Rat Eradication Programme" since its inception in 1999. Rats were successfully eradicated from three small islets in the Beaver Island Group in 2002 by Falklands Conservation and subsequent monitoring by Beaver Island Farm has shown the return of previously absent land birds. The islands to be cleared in this proposed programme are identified by Falklands Conservation as priority islands for rat eradication.The Falkland Islands will receive 10 tonnes worth of free rat bait from the Canna Seabird Recovery Programme of the National Trust for Scotland (worth £20,130), which will cost approx. £7,500 to freight to the islands. "Beaver Island Group Restoration Project" will require up to 5 tonnes of bait over two years and therefore contribute £3,750 towards the freight costs, using a grant from Falklands Conservation.
- Other non-governmental environmental organisations, New Island Conservation Trust and SubAntarctic Foundation for Ecosystem Research, are also investigating the impacts of rats and rabbits on wildlife habitats on islands in the western section of the Falklands. The four research groups are already sharing their knowledge gained.
- EC-funded invasives Project - Sally Poncet met with the UK Project Officer leading the EC-funded project "Increasing regional capacity to reduce the impacts of invasive species on the South Atlantic United Kingdom Overseas Territories" in November 2006. "Beaver Island Group Restoration Project" has a complementary and capacity building role to the EC-funded invasives project.
- South Georgia Habitat Restoration Project - Sally Poncet has also liaised with the Habitat Restoration Officer employed by the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (GSGSSI) and obtained agreement to contract their project consultant (a member of the Island Eradication Advisory Group) when he is in the region. The New Zealand consultant will conduct a site visit to the Beaver Island Group in April 2007 and evaluate the operational plans.
Risk 1: Fieldworkers pulling out halfway through a job.
Eradications likely to fail
Management: Careful selection of field assistants, offering decent work conditions.
Risk 2: Accidental ingestion of poison by field operators.
Impact: Human health
Management: Safety training conducted following the Health & Safety risk assessment undertaken by Falklands Conservation
Risk 3: Accidents in the field.
Impact: Human health
Management: Careful selection of physically able field assistants, care taken.
Risk 1: Insufficient funding to undertake all on-ground actions.
Impact: Eradication of all not possible
Management: Consultant employed in Q2 2007 to guide final work plan.
Risk 2: Difficulty to kill remaining foxes.
Impact: More time/energy spent at Tea compared to other islands
Management: Consultant employed in Q2 2007 to guide final work plan.
Risk 3: Re-invasion due to accidental arrival of rats e.g. via visitors, skua carrying a live rat, shipwreck.
Impact: Destruction of habitat and birds; re-invasion of adjacent islands
Management: Improve Island-wide quarantine and public awareness; contingency plan and equipment in place for potential re-invasion, one bait station left on each island.
The Falkland Islands Department of Agriculture focuses on activities to improve farming productivity and profitability through better grazing management, which requires vegetation monitoring. The "Beaver Island Group Restoration Project" will train a number of landowners and farmers in wildlife monitoring skills. A number of islands in the Falklands have also been identified for rat and fox eradication and the proposed programme will give these farmers the skills in eradication to undertake eradication projects successfully and safely. The project will provide paid employment to a number of landowners and farmers during winter months when there is little money coming onto farms. Restoration of habitats and the return of threatened species and habitats will also provide opportunities for farmers to diversify into other activities such as wildlife tourism.
The successful eradication of rats and foxes will benefit up to 40 species of birds and up to 50 plant species and habitats, including Falklands endemics and races and threatened species. Rare and structurally complex vegetation such as the boxwood scrub and tussac grass that are found on the Beaver Island Group would undoubtedly have exceptional fungal, bryophyte and invertebrate communities of high nature conservation significance.
- Capacity building
The proposed project will give skills to Falkland Island landowners who are economically the least well off community sector in the islands. These acquired skills and experience would open up employment opportunities under contract for other local eradication projects in the Falklands, South Atlantic region and abroad.
- Learning opportunities for further action
The project will also develop the capacity to restore the habitat of the largest island in the group, Beaver Island (3900 ha) and also, potentially nearby Weddell Island (21,900 ha). With climate change and rising sea level, the high points on Weddell Island (479 m) could provide significant refuge for the biodiversity of the south west sector of the Falkland Islands.
- Landowner-lead success
One more unique feature of the project is that it is driven by an enthusiastic and experienced landowner family. Successful completion of the project will demonstrate to the Falkland Islands, other UK Overseas Territories and the Governments of other countries that conservation can be lead as successfully by landowners as by governments and non-governmental organisations.
Funded by FCO/DIFD Overseas Territories Environment Programme, 2007 project FAL403
Multilateral Environmental Agreements
Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) and Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP).
Article 8 of CBD has a small island work programme and Theme 3 is invasive species. In 2005, a "Conservation & Biodiversity Strategy for the Falkland Islands" was drafted to fulfil in part joining CBD and to meet the Falklands obligations as a signatory to ACAP.
The strategy has five themes:
- Promote the sustainable use of ecosystems and their biodiversity.
- Conserve our biodiversity through targeted action on the ground.
- Gain a better understanding of the natural environment.
- Promote education about the natural environment and issues that affect it.
- Implement conservation of biodiversity within an international context.
The "Beaver Island Group Restoration Project" addresses a number of these themes, which fulfils actions required with both CBD and ACAP. As habitat is restored in the Beaver Island Group, opportunities for wildlife tourism will develop for the landowner which, when managed well, is a very sustainable use of biodiversity (Theme 1). The project aims to enhance and protect the land suitable for a number of species and habitats for which action plans have been developed (Theme 2). These include flightless steamer ducks and Cobb's wren, which are Falklands endemics and currently absent from the rat and fox inhabited islands in the Beaver Island Group, and at least seven endemic plants and one priority habitat, Boxwood scrub, which have a fledgling stronghold in the Beaver Island Group.
The project will closely monitor the change in habitats and species during the restoration process using scientific methods proposed in the draft "Long-term environmental monitoring programme for the Falkland Islands", which was prepared in part to address Theme 3: "Beaver Island Group Restoration Project" will publicise the results for the residents and visitors of the Falkland Islands (Theme 4). The proceedings of the ACAP workshop "Albatrosses and Petrels in the South Atlantic: Conservation Priorities" identified the need to eliminate detrimental non-native species, including rats (Theme 5). In this project, rats will be eliminated from Governor Island, the breeding site of an ACAP species (Southern giant petrel), where the breeding success was one of the lowest of 13 colonies studied in 2004/05.
The "Beaver Island Group Restoration Project" also links with the strategic goals of the Falkland Islands community. The key strategic document is the "Islands Plan: 2004/07", which states that “the unspoiled nature of our environment will be treasured and protected through environmentally sustainable development”, which echoes one of the guiding principles in the Falklands Environmental Charter, and that camp areas outside of Stanley will remain viable as an economically and socially sustainable community. The proposed project will protect and enhance biodiversity, and provide skills and experience to farmers living in camp.
In 2005, BirdLife International and Falklands Conservation identified 21 sites that qualified as IBAs. BirdLife International hope that the IBA programme in the Falkland Islands will raise awareness and improve management at key bird sites, as has happened elsewhere. The "Beaver Island Group Restoration Project" focuses on one IBA, "Beaver Island group". The proposed project provides the ideal opportunity to pilot the value of the IBA programme and the designation of a particular site within the concept of an UK overseas territory.