17/12/2016
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Four UK Overseas Territories endemics no longer Critically Endangered

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Montserrat Oriole has had its fortunes turned around. Photo: Alistair Homer.
Montserrat Oriole has had its fortunes turned around. Photo: Alistair Homer.
Conservationists are celebrating the improved fortunes of two Critically Endangered bird species and new plans to help a further two.

Thanks to the efforts of the RSPB and local partners the Saint Helena National Trust and the Government of Montserrat, two of the world’s rarest birds have been downlisted from Critically Endangered to Vulnerable on the latest update of the IUCN Red List. The UK’s only two remaining Critically Endangered bird species – both found on Gough Island in the South Atlantic – have also received some welcome news from the Government in the form of £1.75 million of additional funding.

The UK Overseas Territories contain some of the world’s most unique habitats and species, and their inhabitants are British nationals, with the UK helping to manage their incredible wildlife. 

Jonathan Hall, RSPB Head of UK Overseas Territories, said: “This is great news for two of our rarest birds and is the pay off from the years of collaborative work with our local partners that have gone in to saving these threatened species. Saint Helena Plover and Montserrat Oriole have both been to the very edge of extinction but have been brought back through a combination of hard work, determination and enlightened funding.”

The St Helena Plover is found only on the UK Overseas Territory of St Helena in the South Atlantic. Known locally as Wirebird because of its long, thin legs, this species had declined by 2006 to only 208 individuals. It was further threatened by the development of a new airport on one of its most important nesting habitats. However, recent conservation work supported by the RSPB has mitigated this loss by clearing non-native vegetation to create new habitats for the species. Thanks to these efforts, and a programme for control of invasive species lead by the St Helena National Trust, numbers of the Wirebird have steadily increased over the last decade, and with the number of adults passing 500 in 2016, the Wirebird has now been downlisted.

Montserrat Oriole, found only on its namesake volcanic island in the Caribbean, also a UK Overseas Territory, lost two thirds of its habitat after a series of volcanic eruptions that began in 1995. After the successful management of feral livestock, protection of the remaining forest and a decrease in volcanic activity, the number of birds has now increased.

The UK’s last two Critically Endangered bird species: Tristan Albatross and Gough Bunting are both found on Gough Island, part of the British Overseas Territory of Tristan da Cunha located in the South Atlantic Ocean. This remote island, a UK World Heritage Site, has long been considered one of the world’s most important seabird nesting islands. However, the wildlife of this island is under threat from introduced House Mice, which have colonised the entire island with devastating impacts and today are estimated to kill 600,000 seabird chicks every year. 

The RSPB and the Tristan da Cunha Government have developed an ambitious programme designed to save Gough Island‘s threatened species from extinction and restore this island ecosystem by eradicating the introduced mice. This will require a skilled team of committed conservationists, helicopters, a support vessel and a myriad of equipment and logistical needs. Successfully carrying out this operation is the only proven way to reverse the decline of Tristan Albatross and Gough Bunting. 

Clare Stringer, RSPB’s Head of Globally Threatened Species, said: “The UK Government’s announcement of £1.75 million of funding should enable us to raise the remainder of the funds needed for a mouse-eradication operation on Gough in 2019. If mice can be removed from Gough, we could see the downlisting of Gough Bunting and Tristan Albatross within the next decade, and we can look forward to a future when the UK and its territories will have no Critically Endangered birds.”
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