The UK Government has awarded the South Georgia Heritage Trust nearly £250,000 of funding, helping to secure the survival of one of the world’s most important seabird sanctuaries on the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia. Supporting the world’s largest rat eradication, the grant comes from the Overseas Territories Environment and Climate Fund (Darwin Plus), an internationally renowned programme which gives funding to help protect some of the world’s most threatened species in the UK’s Overseas Territories. Ten other projects will receive grants thanks to £1.5 million of new government funding to protect biodiversity and the natural environment in the UK’s Overseas Territories.

South Georgia is situated in the middle of the South Atlantic and is a UK Overseas Territory, governed by the Falkland Islands. It is considered as one of the most important and largest animal sanctuaries in the region. © Michael Wenger
South Georgia is situated in the middle of the South Atlantic and is a UK Overseas Territory, governed by the Falkland Islands. It is considered as one of the most important and largest animal sanctuaries in the region. © Michael Wenger

Globally, invasive species are second only to habitat loss in reducing biodiversity. This impact is especially pronounced on islands, and many of the UK’s Overseas Territories have lost endemic fauna for this reason. The introduction of destructive rodents to an ecosystem that has evolved in the absence of mammals has seen the extermination of several species on most of the mainland of South Georgia, including the South Georgia Pipit, and has hugely reduced the populations of many other bird species. The funding comes at a critical time for the South Georgia Heritage Trust as the final phase of the Habitat Restoration Project begins in January 2015. The Trust’s mission is to reverse the ecological destruction wrought by invasive rodents that were introduced inadvertently by sealers and whalers to this wildlife oasis over a period of 200 years.

The South Georgia pipit is the southernmost living songbird in the world. It is only found on South Georgia and is considered one of the most endangered species on the island by rats. © SGHT
The South Georgia pipit is the southernmost living songbird in the world. It is only found on South Georgia and is considered one of the most endangered species on the island by rats. © SGHT

A successful trial phase in 2011, followed by a second phase conducted in 2013, saw 65% of the island’s rat-infested areas baited, making this project five times larger than any other rodent eradication ever attempted. The final phase will cover an area of 364 km2 over a period of 3 months using three former air ambulance helicopters and an 18 man strong team to spread 95 tonnes of bait over the remaining area. Once the baiting is completed in the brief sub-Antarctic summer months, a further two years of monitoring will take place. Assuming no signs of rodents have been discovered at the end of this time, South Georgia will be declared free of rodents for the first time since humans first came to the island. The project is now close to reaching its funding target of £7.5 million, enabling the team to push ahead with protecting some of the world’s most threatened bird species that inhabit South Georgia.

The rat eradication project of the SGHT in South Georgia is only possible by using helicopters due to the dimensions of the island and therefore is very costly. © SGHT
The rat eradication project of the SGHT in South Georgia is only possible by using helicopters due to the dimensions of the island and therefore is very costly. © SGHT

The Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (GSGSSI) has been closely involved in planning and implementation of the Habitat Restoration Project on South Georgia, monitoring the non-target mortality from previous phases to inform the methodology of the final phase of the project. The RSPB Centre for Conservation Science has also assisted the project, contributing their expertise in designing evidenced-based research that will measure the response of the island’s local bird life to the rat eradication.

Speaking about the funding announcement, Howard Pearce, the Chairman of Trustees of the South Georgia Heritage Trust said,

“The Trust is delighted with this generous grant from Defra, which brings us very close to achieving our fundraising target. This will enable us to push ahead with the final phase of the project, confident that our target is within reach. The impact of the project, once completed, will be spectacular. Our vision is to return South Georgia to the pristine state in which Captain Cook discovered it in 1775.”

Quelle: South Georgia Heritage Trust