Great Saltee Puffins Shutterstock/Johnny Giese
Rats Out

Great Saltee rat population to be 'eradicated' under plans to protect native seabirds

The 120-acre island, located 5 kilometres off Kilmore Quay, Co Wexford, is home to thousands of seabirds.

THE RAT POPULATION of Great Saltee off Co Wexford will be eradicated under plans to protect seabirds living on the island. 

Under a €50,000 plan, the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) aims to rid Great Saltee of its rat population later this year. 

The 120-acre island, located 5 kilometres off Kilmore Quay, Co Wexford, is home to thousands of seabirds including Puffins, Manx Shearwaters and Gannets. 

The NPWS, which undertook research of Great Saltee’s seabird population with University College Cork, now plans to hire a contractor to draw up a plan to eradicate the island’s rats, which pose a threat to the island’s seabirds. 

“Saltee is one of the top 10 seabird colonies in the country,” says Dr. Stephen Newton, Senior Seabird Conservation Officer with Bird Watch Ireland.

“And it’s had very good monitoring of seabirds [for years],” he adds. 

Yet rats threaten the seabird population on Great Saltee – which also includes Guillemots and Razorbills – because they eat bird eggs, thus reducing population levels. Smaller seabirds are more vulnerable.

The island is privately owned by the Neale family, who inherited Great Saltee after their father, the self-declared Prince Michael the First died in 1998. 

shutterstock_1427849471 Great Saltee Shutterstock / Peter Krocka Shutterstock / Peter Krocka / Peter Krocka

From a European perspective, Ireland is an important sanctuary for seabirds due to our fish stocks and weather patterns. 

For decades, seabirds conservationists have tracked population levels on Great Saltee, and the threats posed to migrating seabirds. 

“Unfortunately most Irish islands that are inshore get rats,” says Newton. 

“Sometimes it could be a historical shipwreck [that brings rats] 200, 300. More recently it might be fishing boats landing on islands and rocks that could be carrying rats,” says Newton. 

“We also know that rats have a reasonable propensity to swim,” says Newton, adding that rats will swim out to an island if they think there’s a food source available. 

Poisoning rats is easier than trying to trap them, says Newton. “You very rarely see them. They’re nocturnal, they live in the ground.”

Newton says that the eradication programme on Great Saltee will likely begin later this year.

“If you say you’re going to try poison a rat you don’t start in the middle of summer,” he said.

You try and hit them when their natural feed is at its lowest which is obviously in mid-winter.

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