Rats threaten birds on U.K. islands

July 28, 2011 at 12:51 PM
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HUGH TOWN, England, July 28 (UPI) -- The rat population on two small U.K. islands poses a threat to local bird populations, authorities said in announcing a plan to rid the islands of the rodents.

The entire adult population of the islands of St. Agnes and Gugh -- all 70 of them -- have backed the plan to eradicated some 3,100 brown rats, The Guardian reported Thursday.

Between 1983 and 2006, the bird population across the Isles of Scilly, the archipelago lying 28 miles off the southwest coast of mainland Britain, fell by almost 25 percent due in part to growing rat numbers, said Tony Whitehead, a spokesman for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Two of the key species threatened by rats are the storm petrel and manx shearwater, which nest in burrows and thus are easy prey for rodents.

The rat population on St Agnes and Gugh could be eradicated because they are far enough away from other islands to make it impossible for other rats to swim across and take their places, authorities said.

The RSPB, Natural England and other local conservation groups want to bring in pest-control experts to poison the rats.

Every adult on the islands was asked about the plans and nobody objected to them, the groups said.

"We're all very pleased that they are going to try to get rid of the rats," Jimmy Paget-Brown, who runs a guest cottage on St Agnes, said.

"It's not as if you see them running all over the place. I can't remember the last time I saw one but of course they are there and we'd rather they weren't."

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