4. Have other options been considered?
Yes. The feasibility study conducted in 2021 also investigated two other options: 1) to do nothing, and 2) to establish and carry out sustained control of predators.
The feasibility study concluded that the combination of a predator fence, and removal of predators from inside, was the only viable and realistic option to safeguard the puffins and to enable their population to recover.
Doing nothing is the cheapest option and would most likely lead to the extinction of Jersey’s puffins within our lifetimes. A seabird and predator expert who visited the project in June 2022 noted that all four puffin nests are accessible to rats and ferrets. If the predators are eating the eggs or killing the chicks each year, it might explain why the population is not increasing. The ‘do nothing’ option means that extinction of Jersey’s puffin within this generation is the most likely result.
The ‘sustained control’ option involves continuous work to kill the non-native predators found in the nesting areas with kill traps and poisons. This option is the least cost-effective as work is constant and will not eliminate the threats to the puffins completely. It also means that there will be always a threat to the puffins if they increase in numbers. The efficiency of this method will decline over time, as the predators adapt, learning to avoid the traps and becoming resistant to poison. Even though all precautions would be taken, in the long term this option would have negative effects on the native wildlife, with the danger from kill traps, and the release of poison and toxins into the environment.
If control works were stopped the predator populations would recover quickly, potentially targeting newly-established puffin pairs and their chicks. All the financial investment and the negative impacts endured by the native wildlife would have been in vain, and in addition, any increases in puffins and other wildlife helped by the control measures would fuel an increase in predators which would be a further backward step.
The approach of removing predators has been successful in over 600 islands, and all have seen fast and positive results for native wildlife. Endangered seabirds have increased dramatically in predator-clear areas, such as in Lundy, off the coast of North Devon. The puffins there increased from 4 to 375 in the 10 years since their rat removal project, and by 2021 they were as many as 848 puffins.