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Black Rats to be eliminated on the Shiants (1 Viewer)

King Edward

Well-known member
Never mind waste of money its a national disgrace. These animals have self-introduced and been resident for over a thousand years.
From the article: "But the rats, which came ashore about 1900 from shipwrecks, are known to devour seabird eggs and young chicks."

1900 is rather less than 1000 years ago. And how is escaping from shipwrecks "self-introduced"? Did the rats build the ships themselves?
Even Nathusius's Pipistrelle - that's a self-introducer!
Are you really incapable of seeing the difference between an introduced non-native invasive species, and a native European species of bat which flies here naturally as part of its native range?

There are some really odd responses on this thread. The Black Rat is a highly damaging global pest species, especially on islands. It's not remotely 'rare' in terms of either its native range or its enormous global population. By the same logic, you could oppose the eradication of rats from any island on the grounds that the species would become locally extinct.
 

Farnboro John

Well-known member
From the article: "But the rats, which came ashore about 1900 from shipwrecks, are known to devour seabird eggs and young chicks."

1900 is rather less than 1000 years ago. And how is escaping from shipwrecks "self-introduced"? Did the rats build the ships themselves?

Are you really incapable of seeing the difference between an introduced non-native invasive species, and a native European species of bat which flies here naturally as part of its native range?

There are some really odd responses on this thread. The Black Rat is a highly damaging global pest species, especially on islands. It's not remotely 'rare' in terms of either its native range or its enormous global population. By the same logic, you could oppose the eradication of rats from any island on the grounds that the species would become locally extinct.

Answers in order, some of which come in the form of questions:

Yes, I think hitch-hiking is different from humans positively introducing pigs, stoats, foxes etc. Black Rats have been a naturalised part of the British fauna since at least Roman and probably Phoenician times.

First question: how long does an animal have to be present before it is considered part of the natural fauna? Under your definition the following animals and birds present for a thousand years or so would have to be considered as invasive and mostly damaging: Rabbit, Brown Hare, Fallow Deer, Pheasant. I haven't heard one suggestion that any of these should be eliminated from the British Isles, so I'm at a loss to understand how removing a small colony of an animal resident in the British Isles for a thousand years will help anything. In the meantime Pheasants have been shown to be serious predators of our native reptiles which are declining as a result, Fallow Deer cause road accidents and damage forestry interests.

Second question: what damage have these particular Black Rats been shown to do? I've been to the Shiants and the seabird colonies are immense whereas the rat colony is tiny. The rats are limited by year-round food supply and predation by BOP, gulls and skuas - unlike tropical islands where there is no real breeding season or Southern Ocean islands where there are no year-round predators. If there are declines going on (Puffins being a possible case in point) they must be due to factors such as climate change, because they are also going on in places where there are no rats of any kind.

Third question: are you really incapable of seeing the similarity between hitch-hikers that are simply making use of available human transport and animals expanding their range due to human induced climate change that are able because of their ability to fly, to jump the water barrier around our islands?

I'm perfectly prepared to see damaging invasive species eliminated. I don't think in this case that damage has been shown; the range is tiny and limited by the water barrier; other greater threats to biodiversity are being ignored due to the cuteness factor - imagine the outcry if it was announced that Fallow Deer were to be culled to extinction in Britain as a non-native invasive damaging species - or economic interests: six million Pheasants can't be wrong, even if they eat every last Adder in Britain.

The Black Rat has a place in British history which should guarantee it at least a limited future in Britain's fauna. Lets see the Brown Rat (here for a much shorter time but universal and universally abhorred) brought into relation with the power of the British state before we even start to worry about the relative importance of invasiveness versus cultural importance of our small population of Black Rats.

While we are on the subject of recent invasive species that the Government has not felt the need to tackle, lets mention Eastern Grey Squirrel (hugely damaging to Red Squirrel), American Mink (hugely damaging to Water Vole), Chinese Water-, Muntjac and Sika Deer (Muntjac being held to be damaging to forestry, Sika to the genetic integrity of native Red Deer). Where is the urgency being trumpeted to deal with any of these, all of which would appear to be more urgent matters than a small colony of Black Rats on one island of the many holding seabird colonies around Britain?

That's all that is being said. Hope it is a bit clearer for you now.

Cheers

John
 

King Edward

Well-known member
But these rats aren't living "in Britain". They're in an island group where they're only been for a century or so. They aren't a native part of the islands' ecology and they don't belong there. The status of the other species you mention isn't relevant. The idea that, once an alien species has been introduced to an area, it should have an indefinite right to remain is quite ridiculous.

Regarding damage, you seem to have ignored the possibility that rats were responsible for the loss of breeding Manx Shearwaters (as has been the case elsewhere around Britain), and/or that they are likely to prevent their return as a breeding species. Possibly Storm Petrels likewise.

In answer to your 3rd question, introduced species are a severe problem on islands globally. Ecologically, it's of no relevance whether such species were introduced deliberately or accidentally.
 

Farnboro John

Well-known member
But these rats aren't living "in Britain". They're in an island group where they're only been for a century or so. They aren't a native part of the islands' ecology and they don't belong there. The status of the other species you mention isn't relevant. The idea that, once an alien species has been introduced to an area, it should have an indefinite right to remain is quite ridiculous.

Regarding damage, you seem to have ignored the possibility that rats were responsible for the loss of breeding Manx Shearwaters (as has been the case elsewhere around Britain), and/or that they are likely to prevent their return as a breeding species. Possibly Storm Petrels likewise.

In answer to your 3rd question, introduced species are a severe problem on islands globally. Ecologically, it's of no relevance whether such species were introduced deliberately or accidentally.

Ah, but life isn't so easily parcelled up as that. Ecologically, it may not be, but cultural matters must also be taken into account. Otherwise it would have to be goodbye Fallow Deer by the quickest means.... (I wouldn't give you much chance for humans if it comes to that - ecologically terrible, pernicious environmental vandals!)

And I admit any possibility you like, but show me the evidence. The the more scientifically based professions are into evidence-based decision-making. You must buck your ideas up and stop this hysterical application of labels to innocent animals.;)

John
 

King Edward

Well-known member
One major difference with Fallow Deer (and to a lesser extent Muntjac) is that other deer are native to the UK mainland which fulfil a broadly similar niche. Hence other UK woodland species have evolved in an environment with deer and other large herbivores. The issue is more one of numbers and grazing pressure, coupled with lack of native predators and excessive deer numbers in our fragmented woodlands due to food being available outside woodland. As I understand it Fallow Deer or close relatives were also more widespread in Europe in previous interglacials.

Most offshore islands, though, don't have any native rats or similar terrestrial mammals, hence are ecologically important for rat-intolerant species. As I said, Shearwaters have already suffered at the hands (and teeth) of rats on other islands in the UK - the a priori position surely has to be that rats are at least potentially a severe threat. Essentially:
Non-native Black Rats have caused extinctions on islands worldwide.
Non-native Black Rats have negatively affected seabirds in the UK.
The Shiant Islands have no native rats.
One of the most vulnerable species is likely to have nested on the Shiants in the past, and may do so again, but it's unlikely in the presence of rats. How much evidence do you need?

I really don't follow your 'cultural' argument. Far too many decisions in nature conservation are already taken on the basis of emotion and sentimentality, to the real detriment of many native species.

PS. Using inappropriate words like 'hysterical' doesn't improve your argument. Terms like 'non-native' and 'invasive' are perfectly justified for this species.

Edit: PPS. On the cultural aspect, surely the significance of the Black Rat was that for centuries it lived in large numbers amongst human settlements and spread the plague responsible for a huge number of human deaths? Whereas, the population in the Shiants is recently arrived, doesn't live among humans to the same extent, and doesn't spread plague. Frankly, a caged population in London Zoo would be more culturally relevant to most people.
 
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Farnboro John

Well-known member
One major difference with Fallow Deer (and to a lesser extent Muntjac) is that other deer are native to the UK mainland which fulfil a broadly similar niche. Hence other UK woodland species have evolved in an environment with deer and other large herbivores. The issue is more one of numbers and grazing pressure, coupled with lack of native predators and excessive deer numbers in our fragmented woodlands due to food being available outside woodland. As I understand it Fallow Deer or close relatives were also more widespread in Europe in previous interglacials.

Most offshore islands, though, don't have any native rats or similar terrestrial mammals, hence are ecologically important for rat-intolerant species. As I said, Shearwaters have already suffered at the hands (and teeth) of rats on other islands in the UK - the a priori position surely has to be that rats are at least potentially a severe threat. Essentially:
Non-native Black Rats have caused extinctions on islands worldwide.
Non-native Black Rats have negatively affected seabirds in the UK.
The Shiant Islands have no native rats.
One of the most vulnerable species is likely to have nested on the Shiants in the past, and may do so again, but it's unlikely in the presence of rats. How much evidence do you need?

I really don't follow your 'cultural' argument. Far too many decisions in nature conservation are already taken on the basis of emotion and sentimentality, to the real detriment of many native species.

PS. Using inappropriate words like 'hysterical' doesn't improve your argument. Terms like 'non-native' and 'invasive' are perfectly justified for this species.

Edit: PPS. On the cultural aspect, surely the significance of the Black Rat was that for centuries it lived in large numbers amongst human settlements and spread the plague responsible for a huge number of human deaths? Whereas, the population in the Shiants is recently arrived, doesn't live among humans to the same extent, and doesn't spread plague. Frankly, a caged population in London Zoo would be more culturally relevant to most people.

What you describe as a major difference is in fact an exact parallel with the squirrels. Habitat occupied by Fallow Deer is a resource not available to native deer in the quantity it should be.

I apologise for using the word hysterical which was mostly done out of a juvenile desire to see if you would bite. You didn't, and my respect is gained thereby. :t:

I must disagree with your unsupported statement that Black Rats have affected seabirds in the UK. There is no evidence for this, whereas there is a substantial and growing body of evidence that climate change has. Indeed, one clear piece of evidence that they haven't is that the colony on the Shiants remains very small despite the enormous size of the seabird colonies there. And your dismissal of the cultural argument (including length of stay) would have to ultimately result in the removal of the following from the British mammal fauna: Brown Hare, Rabbit, Sika, Fallow, Muntjac and Chinese Water Deer; Eastern Grey Squirrel, American Mink, Western House Mouse, Brown Rat, Edible Dormouse, Man, Lesser White-toothed Shrew, Soay Sheep and Feral Goat - and that's just the mammals.....

Now as for prioritising, would you be able to put an argument together (other than funding) for not prioritising the national elimination of Eastern Grey Squirrel, American Mink, Sika Deer and Brown Rat above the removal of a small colony of Black Rats from a single island out of the hundreds off Britain's North-west coast? Personally I don't believe you can. Yet the first three of those species each directly threaten a native mammal species, and the fourth is a proven economic bane of large proportions, a disease vector, a threat to native wildlife.... Tell me again what national extinction you would be preventing by the proposed action, because its extinctions that have to take precedence: mere reductions matter less.

All the best

John
 

lewis20126

Well-known member
Now as for prioritising, would you be able to put an argument together (other than funding) for not prioritising the national elimination of Eastern Grey Squirrel, American Mink, Sika Deer and Brown Rat above the removal of a small colony of Black Rats from a single island out of the hundreds off Britain's North-west coast? Personally I don't believe you can.

John

The difference is that it is probably achievable and the others are assumed to be a lost cause. Don't forget that, to some, demonstrating that a target has been achieved is as (or more?) important than doing something of tangible benefit. I give you the recent Crane introductions as one example.

cheers, alan
 

Farnboro John

Well-known member
John

The difference is that it is probably achievable and the others are assumed to be a lost cause. Don't forget that, to some, demonstrating that a target has been achieved is as (or more?) important than doing something of tangible benefit. I give you the recent Crane introductions as one example.

cheers, alan

Recent local achievements suggest that none of the other targets is unachievable. It is those who sycophantically applaud the misguided "quick-winitis" that hamper real progress and targeting of more serious problems.

I agree about the Crane reintroductions and will raise you Rutland Ospreys!

John
 

Farnboro John

Well-known member
John: are you suggesting that the recent increase of nesting seabirds on Lundy is down to climate change ? or just plain old coincidence ?

Since they are postulating that it originates from colonisation from Wales and not from a burgeoning local population (on whose success they have conspicuously not commented - I imagine there is a comprehensive ringing programme that would enable them to report accurately) there is clearly no connection between the increase in population and the removal of the rats. The most likely explanation is a larger surplus produced on Welsh islands than those islands themselves can accommodate, resulting in dispersal to other sites.

To suggest otherwise, given the reported facts, is bad science, which is what much of British conservation and especially British Government policy, is suffering from. It results in misguided policies and inappropriate priorities.
 

Dave Pullan

Active member
"One of the most vulnerable species is likely to have nested on the Shiants in the past, and may do so again, but it's unlikely in the presence of rats. How much evidence do you need?"

Actually there appears to be no real evidence that Manx Shearwaters ever bred on the Shiants. Speculation yes, evidence no. So some evidence would be nice, "likely to have nested" isn't good enough.

Meanwhile, on near-by Rum where possibly the largest Manx Shearwater colony in the world can be found, Brown Rats are left uncontrolled.

What is going on?
 

King Edward

Well-known member
What you describe as a major difference is in fact an exact parallel with the squirrels. Habitat occupied by Fallow Deer is a resource not available to native deer in the quantity it should be.
The deer issue though goes well beyond simply native vs alien - overpopulation of native Red Deer can be just as bad as of alien Fallow Deer. Say we spent a huge amount of money to wipe out Fallow Deer, then allowed Red Deer to recolonise the whole of the country, we'd still be faced with the problem of overgrazed woods, crop damage and vehicle collisions.

I have no particular objection to many of the other mammal species you list being removed, except that in practical terms I don't think it's possible. The idea that Brown Rats and Grey Squirrels could be eradicated from the UK mainland is fanciful. It's also a false equivalence in that the £900,000 cost of the rat project wouldn't go very far towards wiping out e.g. squirrels. It's probably true that the money could be better spent - in particular, conservation on British overseas territories is chronically underfunded in relation to their ecological value - but there's no guarantee that the money would actually have been available for alternative projects. Mink eradication is probably more feasible.

I don't know much about Soay Sheep, but the cultural & genetic value of these as a link to more primitive domesticated varieties of sheep would seem to be a strong argument in favour of their retention [not the case for the Black Rats]. Against this has to be weighed the damage to natural ecosystems caused by the presence of large alien herbivores (similarly the economic/cultural value of upland sheep grazing vs upland forest restoration).

Rather than a binary native/alien distinction, I do take a more subtle view on this in relation to species that have been introduced short distances from the continent (e.g. Little Owl, Edible Dormouse), which have co-evolved with UK species and whose introduction to the UK is not hugely more than an extension of their native range (e.g. Edible Dormouse is less alien to Britain than, say, Coypu). This becomes more of an issue with climate change and resulting distribution changes, in which terrestrial species of limited mobility face losing out to more mobile species.
 

Farnboro John

Well-known member
The deer issue though goes well beyond simply native vs alien - overpopulation of native Red Deer can be just as bad as of alien Fallow Deer. Say we spent a huge amount of money to wipe out Fallow Deer, then allowed Red Deer to recolonise the whole of the country, we'd still be faced with the problem of overgrazed woods, crop damage and vehicle collisions.

I have no particular objection to many of the other mammal species you list being removed, except that in practical terms I don't think it's possible. The idea that Brown Rats and Grey Squirrels could be eradicated from the UK mainland is fanciful. It's also a false equivalence in that the £900,000 cost of the rat project wouldn't go very far towards wiping out e.g. squirrels. It's probably true that the money could be better spent - in particular, conservation on British overseas territories is chronically underfunded in relation to their ecological value - but there's no guarantee that the money would actually have been available for alternative projects. Mink eradication is probably more feasible.

I don't know much about Soay Sheep, but the cultural & genetic value of these as a link to more primitive domesticated varieties of sheep would seem to be a strong argument in favour of their retention [not the case for the Black Rats]. Against this has to be weighed the damage to natural ecosystems caused by the presence of large alien herbivores (similarly the economic/cultural value of upland sheep grazing vs upland forest restoration).

Rather than a binary native/alien distinction, I do take a more subtle view on this in relation to species that have been introduced short distances from the continent (e.g. Little Owl, Edible Dormouse), which have co-evolved with UK species and whose introduction to the UK is not hugely more than an extension of their native range (e.g. Edible Dormouse is less alien to Britain than, say, Coypu). This becomes more of an issue with climate change and resulting distribution changes, in which terrestrial species of limited mobility face losing out to more mobile species.

Actually Grey Squirrels, by enlistment of the otherwise useless shooting fraternity, has been shown to be capable of elimination at county level - so all that is required is country-wide action by extant societal elements. I agree Brown Rat, as one of very few species that can look Homo sapiens in the eye and say "go on, do your worst" is a different matter: but it apparently requires removal from various seabird islands far more than the current focus on Black Rat.

I'm sorry, did you use the word "cultural" in your comment on Soay Sheep (which are left unmanaged on the islands of St Kilda just to enable sicentific study of an unmanaged population - there is no need for them to be in that location for genetic preservation. Any old field would do. Try to use a cultural argument for them and Black Rat should certainly get the thumbs up. Well done.

As for your last paragraph, its peculiar terms would throw a lifeline to the Black Rat as a Western European resident very likely to benefit from the warming climate and get even closer to us than it is now.

John
 

Farnboro John

Well-known member
The deer issue though goes well beyond simply native vs alien - overpopulation of native Red Deer can be just as bad as of alien Fallow Deer. Say we spent a huge amount of money to wipe out Fallow Deer, then allowed Red Deer to recolonise the whole of the country, we'd still be faced with the problem of overgrazed woods, crop damage and vehicle collisions.

I have no particular objection to many of the other mammal species you list being removed, except that in practical terms I don't think it's possible. The idea that Brown Rats and Grey Squirrels could be eradicated from the UK mainland is fanciful. It's also a false equivalence in that the £900,000 cost of the rat project wouldn't go very far towards wiping out e.g. squirrels. It's probably true that the money could be better spent - in particular, conservation on British overseas territories is chronically underfunded in relation to their ecological value - but there's no guarantee that the money would actually have been available for alternative projects. Mink eradication is probably more feasible.

I don't know much about Soay Sheep, but the cultural & genetic value of these as a link to more primitive domesticated varieties of sheep would seem to be a strong argument in favour of their retention [not the case for the Black Rats]. Against this has to be weighed the damage to natural ecosystems caused by the presence of large alien herbivores (similarly the economic/cultural value of upland sheep grazing vs upland forest restoration).

Rather than a binary native/alien distinction, I do take a more subtle view on this in relation to species that have been introduced short distances from the continent (e.g. Little Owl, Edible Dormouse), which have co-evolved with UK species and whose introduction to the UK is not hugely more than an extension of their native range (e.g. Edible Dormouse is less alien to Britain than, say, Coypu). This becomes more of an issue with climate change and resulting distribution changes, in which terrestrial species of limited mobility face losing out to more mobile species.

Actually Grey Squirrels, by enlistment of the otherwise useless shooting fraternity, has been shown to be capable of elimination at county level - so all that is required is country-wide action by extant societal elements. I agree Brown Rat, as one of very few species that can look Homo sapiens in the eye and say "go on, do your worst" is a different matter: but it apparently requires removal from various seabird islands far more than the current focus on Black Rat.

I'm sorry, did you use the word "cultural" in your comment on Soay Sheep (which are left unmanaged on the islands of St Kilda just to enable sicentific study of an unmanaged population - there is no need for them to be in that location for genetic preservation. Any old field would do. Try to use a cultural argument for them and Black Rat should certainly get the thumbs up. Well done.

As for your last paragraph, its peculiar terms would throw a lifeline to the Black Rat as a Western European resident very likely to benefit from the warming climate and get even closer to us than it is now.

Nearly forgot the deer thing: you are right, culling would still be required. I can however think of one very good reason for eliminating Fallow Deer and installing Reds instead: Red Deer venison is far superior! Hot dead Bambi, yum.

John
 

King Edward

Well-known member
I'm sorry, did you use the word "cultural" in your comment on Soay Sheep (which are left unmanaged on the islands of St Kilda just to enable sicentific study of an unmanaged population - there is no need for them to be in that location for genetic preservation. Any old field would do. Try to use a cultural argument for them and Black Rat should certainly get the thumbs up. Well done.
I didn't say I supported the retention of the feral sheep, simply that the argument in their favour was stronger than for the rats. The rats are not a major livestock species, their inhabitation of the islands is not longstanding and the population doesn't have any particular genetic significance. In general, I am just as in favour of removing feral sheep/goats/pigs etc. as of rats. The 'cultural' importance of the latter seems to be mainly "some people like to go and see the species living wild within the geographic/political boundaries of the UK" - not a very good reason in my opinion.

As for your last paragraph, its peculiar terms would throw a lifeline to the Black Rat as a Western European resident very likely to benefit from the warming climate and get even closer to us than it is now.
Not really, because it's not native to Europe and it's not a species in need of conservation.

Regarding 'cultural' conservation more generally, there is generally too much emphasis on preserving 'traditional' species and habitats, and not nearly enough on conserving 'wild' or near-wild ecosystems. Plantlife is a particular offender here - lots of effort/publicity into e.g. non-native cornfield weeds, 'traditional' meadows and 'traditional' woodland management, very little on conserving actual 'wild' habitats and their species. For example, their report on English woodlands (here) is big on coppicing and commercial exploitation for woodfuel, but has nothing to say on the severe effects of fragmentation and lack of old growth areas (despite the considerable importance of the latter for fungi and bryophytes, supposedly within Plantlife's remit).
 

Farnboro John

Well-known member
I didn't say I supported the retention of the feral sheep, simply that the argument in their favour was stronger than for the rats. The rats are not a major livestock species, their inhabitation of the islands is not longstanding and the population doesn't have any particular genetic significance. In general, I am just as in favour of removing feral sheep/goats/pigs etc. as of rats. The 'cultural' importance of the latter seems to be mainly "some people like to go and see the species living wild within the geographic/political boundaries of the UK" - not a very good reason in my opinion.


Not really, because it's not native to Europe and it's not a species in need of conservation.

Regarding 'cultural' conservation more generally, there is generally too much emphasis on preserving 'traditional' species and habitats, and not nearly enough on conserving 'wild' or near-wild ecosystems. Plantlife is a particular offender here - lots of effort/publicity into e.g. non-native cornfield weeds, 'traditional' meadows and 'traditional' woodland management, very little on conserving actual 'wild' habitats and their species. For example, their report on English woodlands (here) is big on coppicing and commercial exploitation for woodfuel, but has nothing to say on the severe effects of fragmentation and lack of old growth areas (despite the considerable importance of the latter for fungi and bryophytes, supposedly within Plantlife's remit).

Would you say that concentration on particular groups - even if they are held to be indicators of ecosystem health - particularly leads to that misapprehension of what is really needed to preserve (and improve) the environment and biodiversity?

John
 

King Edward

Well-known member
Would you say that concentration on particular groups - even if they are held to be indicators of ecosystem health - particularly leads to that misapprehension of what is really needed to preserve (and improve) the environment and biodiversity?

John
Yes, to a large extent. Some groups are obviously a lot more popular than others (birds, butterflies, orchids and other attractive flowers). The problem with focusing on indicators of "ecosystem health" is that the favoured species are not necessarily indicative of the whole ecosystem, just part of it. With woodlands, for instance, many flowers and butterflies tend to thrive in the same early successional coppice-type areas - you could count all the primroses or fritillary butterflies you wanted but it wouldn't tell you very much about, say, deadwood invertebrates, or bats, or mud-breeding craneflies, or micro-moths and spiders living in the tree canopy.

I think a major problem is that the UK has been so thoroughly managed (historically) that almost wild areas disappeared long ago, together with our larger mammal species, so we don't have much experience of natural habitats to act as a reference point. Another is the amount of money available through agricultural stewardship, which distorts 'conservation' work towards eligible land uses (derived from farming), rather than towards 'natural' land uses.

There is also the tendency to classify habitats into 'boxes' - e.g. a site might have a good mix of grassland, scrub, trees etc., but if it's designated as a grassland SSSI for its floral value then that's how it needs to be managed.
 

MarkHows

Mostly Mammals
"One of the most vulnerable species is likely to have nested on the Shiants in the past, and may do so again, but it's unlikely in the presence of rats. How much evidence do you need?"

Actually there appears to be no real evidence that Manx Shearwaters ever bred on the Shiants. Speculation yes, evidence no. So some evidence would be nice, "likely to have nested" isn't good enough.

Meanwhile, on near-by Rum where possibly the largest Manx Shearwater colony in the world can be found, Brown Rats are left uncontrolled.

What is going on?

A complete waste of money that is what

Mark
 

Farnboro John

Well-known member
Its now not free, the RSPB is sending out begging letters for a project to eliminate Black Rats from the Shiants.

Mammal watchers: don't contribute. Consider writing to protest.

I'm writing today.

John
 

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