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Two Articles: Transportation Difficulties and Killer Mice

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  • Bob Conrich
    The following articles are courtesy of the St. Helena Independent. Tristan’s Holiday Plans Disrupted From information received from the Administrator,
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 19, 2008
      The following articles are courtesy of the St. Helena Independent.

      Tristan’s Holiday Plans Disrupted

      From information received from the Administrator, David Morley, The MV
      Baltic Trader eventually left Cape Town 09.00 local time on Thursday
      11th December on its inaugural journey to deliver materials for the
      reconstruction of the island’s fishing factory and components for a
      heavy duty harbour crane. The ship’s late departure has a knock-on
      effect on Tristan’s traditional Christmas holiday arrangements, with
      the traditional Break Up planned for today, Friday 19th December,
      seriously disrupted. Medical and Education departments likely to be
      stopping on the 19th as planned, but everyone else is likely to keep
      working until MV Edinburgh expected to arrive today with Christmas
      fresh/frozen order for whole island)and MV Baltic Trader, expected
      Thursday 18th or earlier, are unloaded. Even with perfect sea
      conditions, it will be difficult to unload both ships by Christmas.

      As a result Sheep Shearing Day and the main annual slaughtering will
      be postponed until New Year. We have a separate Christmas and New Year
      Holiday page and will endeavour to keep our visitors up to date with
      images and news of Tristan’s busy summer ‘holiday’ period there.



      The Tristan albatross, one of the world’s most threatened birds, has
      suffered its worst nesting season ever, according to RSPB research.
      The number of chicks making it through to fledging has decreased
      rapidly and it is now five times lower than it should be because
      introduced predatory mice are eating the chicks alive on Gough island
      - the bird’s only home and a South Atlantic territory of the United

      The mice are also affecting the Gough bunting â€" one of the world’s
      largest finches â€" another species endemic to Gough island. A recent
      survey of the bunting’s population reveals that the population has
      halved within the last two decades. Now there are only an estimated
      400-500 pairs left.

      Despite the grave situation for both species on Gough Island,
      government funding to plan for and take forward the eradication of
      mice is still lacking. This is despite recognition from two prominent
      House of Common’s Committees that the “biodiversity found in the UK
      Overseas Territories is equally valuable and at a greater risk of
      loss” (than the UK) and that current levels of funding are “grossly
      inadequate”. Eradicating mice is the single action that would solve
      the primary conservation threat facing both species.

      Because of the impact from introduced house mice, both the Tristan
      albatross and the Gough bunting were listed earlier this year as
      Critically Endangered, by BirdLife International. This is the highest
      level of threat before extinction. Richard Cuthbert is an RSPB
      scientist who has been researching the mice problem on Gough Island
      since 2000. Commenting on the latest results he said: “We’ve known for
      a long time that the mice were killing albatross chicks in huge
      numbers. However, we now know that the albatrosses have suffered their
      worst year on record. “The mice do not affect the adult albatrosses,
      but we know from our work that these are being killed by longline
      fishing vessels at sea. So, unsustainable numbers of this bird are
      being killed on land and at sea. Without conservation efforts, the
      Tristan albatross is doomed.

      “We also know that the mice are predators on the eggs and chicks of
      the Gough bunting and mice predation is the main factor behind their
      recent decline. We also suspect that the mice may compete with the
      buntings for food, especially during cold winters.”

      Collaborator Peter Ryan from the University of Cape Town’s Percy
      FitzPatrick Institute has been studying buntings at the island since
      the 1980s. He said “The decline in bunting numbers is alarming.
      Without urgent conservation action to remove the mice, both the
      albatross and the bunting are living on borrowed time.”

      A complete survey of the Tristan albatross on Gough Island in January
      showed there were 1764 adult albatrosses incubating eggs. A later
      survey revealed that only 246 chicks had survived to fledging. Richard
      Cuthbert added: “While some breeding failures would have occurred
      naturally, the majority of these would have been killed by mice. Far
      higher numbers of winter-breeding burrowing petrels are also predated
      by mice. For example, we estimate that half a million Atlantic petrel
      chicks will have been eaten last winter.”

      The RSPB has been involved in a feasibility study to test whether it’s
      possible to remove the mice. So far, the trials look promising, giving
      both birds a more optimistic future. Funding on this year’s work on
      Gough has come from the Overseas Territory Environment Programme (OTEP).

      Removing rats from seabird islands has been conducted in several parts
      of the world with great success, and the RSPB is working with New
      Zealand conservationists to tackle removal of the smaller mice. The
      procedure will involve dropping poisoned bait from helicopters.

      Alistair Gammell is the RSPB’s International Director. He said: “We
      are grateful to the Government for funding to allow us to assess the
      feasibility of removing mice.

      “It is essential that the Government commits adequate funding for the
      protection of the many threatened species found on the UK’s Overseas
      Territories. “We are challenging the Government to prove its
      commitment to conservation by properly funding conservation
      initiatives in these territories, and most urgently to commit to
      funding the removal of mice from Gough.”

      The RSPB is not alone in calling for greater funding. The House of
      Commons Environmental Audit Committee on Halting Biodiversity Loss,
      published in November stated: “One of the most important contributions
      that the Government could make to halting biodiversity loss would be
      to provide more support for the UK Overseas Territories, where it is
      the eleventh hour for many species.

      Although England has a number of internationally important species and
      habitats, the biodiversity found in the UK Overseas Territories is
      equally valuable and at a greater risk of loss. The Government must
      act now to protect these areas.”

      The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee for the UK Overseas
      Territories stated in June: “The environmental funding currently being
      provided by the UK to the Overseas Territories appears grossly
      inadequate and we recommend that it should be increased.”

      House mice were introduced accidentally to Gough island by sealers
      during the 18th or 19th century.
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