Plague of rats a threat to islands' heritage status

UN tells Britain that rodents put endangered birds at risk on remote island outposts

A A A

Britain has been warned by the United Nations that it is at risk of losing two of its five listings for natural World Heritage sites unless it urgently provides funding to eradicate rodents which are threatening critically-endangered bird species found only on two remote islands.

Rats and mice introduced by humans on to the British-administered Henderson Island – part of the Pitcairn Islands in the South Pacific – and Gough Island in the South Atlantic are destroying unique bird populations, including breeds of petrel and albatross, by eating vast numbers of eggs laid by the seabirds which have no natural defence against rodents.

Unesco, the UN heritage body, this week warned the Government that the status of the islands as natural World Heritage sites – alongside such locations as the Great Barrier Reef and the Galapagos Islands – is in danger of being removed unless work is done to stop the birds being driven to extinction.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) described the intervention as "extremely embarrassing" for the Government and called for £700,000 to be provided towards the £1.7m cost of clearing Henderson Island of its 30,000-strong population of the Pacific rat introduced by Polynesian natives in the 14th century.

The sub-tropical island, along with Gough Island, is one of 14 British Overseas Territories and therefore the direct responsibility of London. It is home to five species found nowhere else on earth, including the Henderson petrel which once numbered five million pairs but now stands at just 40,000 pairs. The two islands are uninhabited and among the most inaccessible places in the world.

Ornithologists warn that the petrel could be extinct within a few years unless urgent action is taken to kill the rats, which eat 25,000 chicks a year - equivalent to 95 per cent of the eggs laid by the birds. The Tristan albatross, which is one of three species unique to Gough Island, is suffering a similar rate of decline due to super-sized domestic mice which have grown fat on the easy prey of newly-hatched chicks.

At a meeting in Brazil this week, UNESCO called on the Government to rapidly find the money to pay for rat eradication on Henderson Island, warning that it was of "critical importance to maintaining... the integrity of the property". Last year it adopted a similar position on Gough Island and set a 2014 deadline to exterminate the mice.

Grahame Madge, spokesman for the RSPB, said: "Unless action is taken to halt the decline of the species, then the inevitable result will be their extinction. Because of the remoteness of these islands, they are like evolutionary time capsules and these bird species have developed untouched by the outside world.

"For the British Government to be told that it is currently failing the designation of these islands as World Heritage sites is extremely embarrassing."



A Government spokesperson said, "We place great importance on conserving the biodiversity of the UK Overseas Territories. We have provided £213,000 to protect biodiversity on Henderson Island, and almost £350,000 for Gough Island, and welcome applications for further funding."

Sport
Premier League Live
footballLIVE Follow all the Premier League action as it happens
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + echSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
News
James Argent from Towie is missing, police say
peopleTV star had been reported missing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF,...

Commercial Property Solicitor - Bristol

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: A VERY HIGH QUALITY FIRM A high qual...

DevOps Engineer (Systems Administration, Linux, Shell, Bash)

£50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: DevOps Engineer (Systems Administration, L...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone