The “Biosecurity for LIFE project: safeguarding the UK's globally important seabird Special Protection Area (SPA) islands from invasive alien species [LIFE 17 GIE/UK/000572]” was a partnership project between the RSPB, National Trust and National Trust for Scotland.
The £1 million project was awarded funding from EU LIFE, with co-financing from NatureScot, Natural England, and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs of Northern Ireland (DAERA). Additional funding from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), Natural Resources Wales, and the Scottish Nature Restoration Fund (NRF) was secured during the project.
The five-year project ran from August 2018 to July 2023 and worked with a wide range of stakeholders (island managers, conservation organisations, island communities and key marine industries) to develop UK capacity to plan and implement biosecurity measures to safeguard seabird islands against the threat of invasive non-native mammalian predators arriving and becoming established. Through training, awareness raising and practical on-the-ground conservation work, the project aimed to secure a future for the UK’s seabird islands free from this threat of predation.
The project vision was to see a measurable improvement in biosecurity practice across all of the 42 UK SPA islands designated for breeding seabirds, and more importantly for this improvement to be maintained.
The UK is home to globally important populations of seabirds, many of which are threatened. Seabirds face many challenges at sea, such as climate change, being caught in fishing gear (bycatch), and plastic pollution of the oceans. The major threat they face on land is invasive non-native mammalian predators. These invasive predators, including rats, mice, stoats, hedgehogs, mink, and feral cats, are not naturally found on (native to) the islands where seabirds breed. Adult birds, chicks, and eggs are very vulnerable to predation from them. Measures can be put in place to try to stop these invasive predators from getting to these seabird islands; this is called ‘biosecurity’.
The most important UK seabird colonies are found on islands that have been recognised as Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and are historically free of invasive predators. Some seabirds breeding in the UK are found exclusively on these predator-free islands. The Biosecurity for LIFE project aimed to put in place biosecurity measures across all 42 island SPAs in the UK that are designated for breeding seabirds.
At the start of the project, many of these islands did not have biosecurity measures in place and awareness about the threat posed to breeding seabirds by invasive predators was generally low amongst island communities and visitors. The project has worked with non-governmental organisations (NGOs), government agencies, landowners, communities, and others to put in place biosecurity measures on these islands.
At Biosecurity for LIFE we focused primarily on 42 island special protection areas (SPAs) in the UK that are designated for breeding seabirds.
As indicated on the map, these islands are spread around the coastline of the UK including parts of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Collaboration between island communities, businesses, managers, landowners, conservation organisations and statutory bodies has vastly improved biosecurity on the UK’s Special Protection Area (SPA) islands. Globally significant seabird populations are now better protected against the threat of invasive non-native mammalian predators.
The project consulted and worked with: national and international biosecurity professionals; island residents and communities; island owners; marine businesses, boat and ferry operators; organisations and statutory agencies that manage islands; visitors; schoolchildren and the wider public.