Recovery of the Manx shearwater on Lundy Island

Granite stacks and rugged cliffs on the west coast of Lundy Island

Lundy Island has always been famous for its seabirds. ‘Lundy’, in Norse, means ‘Puffin Island’ and there are puffins there today. But the real gem is the Manx shearwater. Most of these birds (over 90%) breed on islands off the British and Irish coasts.

Until a decade ago the Manx shearwater was doing badly. There were just a few hundred pairs left on the island and their eggs and chicks were being eaten by rats. There was a real prospect of losing this bird completely, as happened on the island of Canna in the Inner Hebrides.

The Seabird Recovery Project

Back in 2002, the Seabird Recovery Project partnership was formed to try to save Manx shearwaters on Lundy. We joined forces with the RSPB, English Nature (now Natural England) and Landmark Trust.

Our aim was to remove the brown and black rats, but in Britain and Ireland the black rat is really rare – it’s only found on a few islands and dockland warehouses. Yet globally, the black rat was widespread and abundant whereas Manx shearwaters certainly weren't.

On balance of the global population of both species, our priority had to be rescuing the dwindling population of Manx shearwaters.

By 2013, nearly a decade after rat removal, there are now thousands of shearwaters breeding on Lundy. The speed of recovery has been remarkable, and it can't be down to just the birds bred on Lundy. Manx shearwaters spend the first five or six years of life at sea, in the south Atlantic, so the flocks of breeding birds on Lundy must in part have arrived from other colonies.

Welsh invasion?

It is likely that shearwaters from the massive colony on the islands off Pembrokeshire have always visited Lundy, and they may have tried to breed. But until the rats went they were always deterred or their eggs and chicks were eaten.

Lundy is now a haven for the seabirds as well as the rich diversity of wildlife that calls it home.