CREATING A SEABIRD RESERVE TO SAVE OUR PUFFINS WITH A PREDATOR-EXCLUSION FENCE

The National Trust for Jersey and the Birds On The Edge partnership are excited to launch a new campaign to save our beloved puffins.  With the puffins facing local extinction in Jersey in the near future, we aim to create a Seabird Reserve to protect their nests, eggs and chicks with a special fence that will keep rats and ferrets away.

This long-term project hopes to make safe the puffins’ breeding grounds so that they can thrive and their colony can recover to sustainable levels. This predator-exclusion fence will also protect many other local seabirds, land birds, mammals, reptiles and insects.  

With only four breeding pairs remaining, we can no longer take it for granted that this colourful seabird which plays such an important part in Jersey’s natural heritage will keep returning to our shores - we must play our part to protect it now before it is too late.

The information below aims to answer some of the questions that you might have about this project, including how to participate with your help and feedback.

1. Why do we need a predator-exclusion fence?

We need it to protect the puffins and other local wildlife from non-native predators which have been historically introduced by humans, such as rats, ferrets, cats and hedgehogs. All four predators have been found to inhabit or frequently visit the slopes above the seabird breeding cliffs

Once the fence is installed and the non-native predators are removed from inside the reserve, the fence will stop them getting back into the protected area.  The fence will not only help the puffins to feel safe so they can come ashore to breed and nest but will also help to encourage other local wildlife in the area. 

2. What is a non-native predator?

Non-native, or invasive predators, are those transported by humans, either unintentionally or as pets, onto islands where the native wildlife has no natural defenses against them.

At present 70% or the world’s seabirds are threatened, and introduced predators are their number one threat. Rats and cats alone have together caused the extinction of over 158 species across the world. Feral ferrets can easily kill and eat birds, eggs and chicks, and even the otherwise friendly hedgehogs can trouble ground-nesting birds by eating their eggs.

3. Why should we care about our puffins?

Jersey has only 4 breeding pairs of puffins left, but in the early 1900s we had between 200 and 300 pairs of them, breeding between Plémont and Grève de Lecq.  Our puffins are heading for extinction, and if we don’t act now, we could lose them forever.

Puffins are true seabirds, only coming ashore in the spring to breed and spending the rest of the year out at sea. They have a long-lived but slow reproductive cycle. They are not fertile until five years of age and then only lay one egg per year. When old enough to breed, puffins return to the sites where they were born – this is why their native grounds, such as Jersey’s coastline, are so important for their life cycle.

We believe that the puffin and the cliffs where they breed have a special place in the heart of Jersey’s natural heritage. Its iconic image permeates across many local art forms, cultural representations and conservation campaigns. If we are to be the guardians of our heritage, then we must step up our efforts to reverse the damage that we have caused to the wildlife that makes our Island so special. And if we can’t even do right by the most colourful, most beloved of our feathered friends, what chances have all the other less charismatic species we share Jersey with?

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.

5. What consultation process has been carried out so far?

Preliminary research was undertaken in 2017 by Piers Sangan (Sangan Conservation, Jersey) on the present status of Jersey’s puffins, and by Kirsty Swinnerton (Island Conservation, USA) on status of introduced predators. It was followed-up by three years of wildlife and predator research by the Birds On The Edge project officer, who was also trained in eradication, monitoring and biosecurity techniques in Lundy and the Isles of Scilly. 

Since 2018, the project has received guidance from organisations that have pioneered the use of fences for seabird conservation, such as Biz Bell from Wildlife Management International Ltd (New Zealand), Dr Lindsey Young from Pacific Rim Conservation (Hawaii, USA) and Tania Pipa from SPEA (Azores, Portugal).

Within our local community, the project is liaising with partners, landowners and stakeholders such as Durrell, the Natural Environment Department, Economic Development, Tourism, Sport and Culture Department, the Société Jersiaise, Visit Jersey, the Jersey Coastal National Park, the Jersey Biodiversity Centre, the JSPCA, and the Jersey International Centre of Advanced Studies to name a few.

6. What will happen to non-native predators after the fence is installed?

Any predators found inside the fenced area will be carefully trapped. Feral domestic animals, like ferrets, will be taken to the JSPCA. Hedgehogs will be managed following the advice of the Jersey Hedgehog Preservation Group and are likely to be released in adjacent areas outside the reserve but within their territories. If any rats were found difficult to trap, then a short, targeted and temporary effort would combine bait stations and kill traps, ensuring that all precautions are taken to minimize any negative effects to other animals.

It is believed that the number of non-native predators in the area to be fenced is presently low compared to adjacent farmland, due to the low numbers of seabirds in the cliffs. Most predators near the puffin breeding areas will probably move away during the construction of the fence, with few if any left inside the reserve once the fence is completed. 

7. Where will it be built?

The fence will be placed below the public footpath, starting to the west of the Lecq Clay shooting range, and ending to the east of the Plémont headland. The exact route will be determined by the terrain, geology and habitats. Most of the land to be fenced is owned by the public of Jersey and managed by the Natural Environment Department. Other areas are privately owned by individuals who are supportive of this project.

8. What will it look like? 

A typical predator-proof fence is made of a strong wire mesh supported by poles at a regular distance. It can be between 1.5-2m tall, with a rolled hood at the top to stop predators climbing over it. The poles will be dug into the ground when possible, and the mesh will be sunk and skirted underground to prevent burrowing animals to enter  from underneath. The ground on either side will be landscaped to avoid damage by trees or debris.

9. Will it be visible?

Yes, the fence will be visible from the sea. It will be seen from the bottom of the Plémont headland and from some sections of the coastal cliff path. Most of it will be placed between 15-30 metres below the cliff path, so even when you can see it, it will not obstruct your views of the sea or landscape.

10. Will I still be able to access the cliffs and headlands inside the fenced reserve?

The fence will not cut across public footpaths and will only protect cliffs which are not usually visited by the public, due to their dangerous terrain. The fence will be fitted with special predator-proof gates at certain access points to allow for workers, equipment and sheep to enter the reserve safely.

Public access via these gates will be managed sympathetically to allow traditional use of the land, particularly by groups of users within the community such as shoreline anglers.

11. Will the fence affect other species? 

Yes. The fence will not only protect the puffins but all native birds, reptiles and mammals from the non-native predators. It is hoped that these indigenous animals will increase in numbers and even locally extinct species can re-colonise the area, such as Guillemots or Storm petrels. The wildlife and habitats inside the reserve will be monitored to detect changes in the long-term.

12. Will the fence become a permanent fixture? 

The fence will be built to last but we will review its effectiveness within the first 10 to 15 years, which is hopefully enough time to detect improvements in puffin numbers and other endangered wildlife. We will continuously evaluate maintenance strategies to improve its cost-effectiveness. Should the fence prove to be ineffective in protecting the puffins, removal will be considered.  

13. How much will it cost?

It is estimated that the fence itself will cost between £650,000 – £800,000 to build, with the overall cost for the first five years of the project in the region of the £1,000,000 mark.

14. Who will pay for it?

The Birds On The Edge partnership is looking at various fundraising options. An initial pledge of £100,000 towards the Reserve has been secured so far. The people of Jersey people have been incredibly supportive when it comes to protecting this special bird which lies at the heart of Jersey’s coastal natural heritage. We will therefore be running a fund raising campaign to seek donations towards this project. A donation link can be found at the bottom of this page.

15. Is this too much to spend on such a small colony of only four pairs?

It might seem expensive, but it will save money in the long term, as it is cheaper to protect species and their habitats than it is to try to restore them once they have become extinct in an area.

With our seabird colonies suffering from overfishing, pollution, climate change, and now the new threat of avian flu affecting seabirds across the Atlantic, it is more urgent than ever to do what we can to help our puffins.

We know that protecting their breeding grounds from invasive predators will give them a safe home to recover from all the other threats - and it is the one thing that we as a community can do for them here in Jersey.

Even better, by protecting the puffins’ cliffs and slopes, we will protect all the other wildlife that shares its habitats with the puffins, from razorbills, choughs, swifts, kestrels, stonechats and Dartford warblers, to mammals like Jersey bank voles and reptiles like green lizards and slow worms. 

This is why the puffin is known in conservation terms as an ‘umbrella species’, one that shares its protection will all the members of its community, allowing all to thrive. Thanks to the puffins, this reserve will become truly a safe haven for coastal wildlife in Jersey.

16. Who will build it, monitor it and maintain it?

The design and operational plan will be produced by the Birds On The Edge Project Officer with the help of a predator-fence specialist. The fence will be built by a local construction company. The Project Officer will monitor the fence and organise any maintenance works when needed.

17. What is the project’s timescale?

Year 1: Installation of the fence, ecological monitoring of puffins and other native wildlife, start of bracken removal.

Years 2 to 4: Removal of introduced predators from the reserve, deployment of biosecurity measures, continuation of wildlife monitoring and bracken removal, trialing of seasonal grazing herd in suitable areas.

Year 5 onwards: Biosecurity measures in operation, ongoing environmental and wildlife monitoring, continuation of bracken removal and seasonal grazing.

18. How will we know if it’s working and how long is it going to take? 

The puffins and other wildlife in the area will be monitored continuously. It is hoped that changes and increases in the puffins and other species will be detected within the first 5 to 10 years.

19. How can I help?

In order to succeed, the Seabird Reserve needs your help and support, in whichever way you can share it. 

The project will generate a wide range of opportunities for volunteers, apprentices and students. Members of the public with any interest and skills will be able to participate in community-based events such as public talks, guided walks, seabird watches, education activities, ecological monitoring and research, conservation tasks, habitat management and biosecurity operations, to name a few.

As these and other opportunities arise they will be publicised here and via our social media channels or you can be notified by sending us an email to: cris@nationaltrust.je

Above all please consider making a donation towards the costs of this project. Every penny counts and will be utilised directly for constructing the much needed reserve CLICK HERE TO DONATE

20. How can I find out more about the Seabird Reserve project and the predator fence?

You can join us at one of the following public consultations:

- St Helier: Santander Work Café, Charing Cross, Wednesday 27th July, 11am to 2pm. 

- St Helier: Santander Work Café, Charing Cross, Thursday 4th August, 11am to 2pm.

- St Ouen: Parish Hall, Friday 12th August, 5pm to 8pm.

- St Ouen: Parish Hall, Saturday 13th August, 10am to 1pm.

21. If I have any concerns or feedback, how can I raise them with you?

As a member of this Island’s community, your concerns and feedback are an important part of this project. We will factor them into the consultation process, try to address them, and mitigate them whenever possible. 

You can raise your concerns by:

• Attending any of the public open sessions as detailed above. If none of these events are suitable for you, please let us know.

• Emailing the project officer at: cris@nationaltrust.je

• Filling this survey Plémont Seabird Reserve Public Survey, which includes your concerns and feedback, and returning it to Cris Sellares via:

- Email at: cris@nationaltrust.je

- Post: Birds On The Edge, The National Trust for Jersey, The Elms, La Cheve Rue, St Mary JE3 3EN.

To Download the  Plémont Seabird Reserve Public Survey  Click Here

#The Seabird Trail

Why not walk the wonderful Seabird Trail from Plémont and Grève de Lecq and enjoy the splendour of these breathtaking coastal views. See how many species of native seabirds you can spot soaring above the cliffs or swimming and diving for food in the waters below? The Walk is approximately 2.7km and takes around 2 hours, although that depends on how many seabirds you spot!

CLICK HERE to read more

Seabird Trail Brochure

Why not click here for further information about Birds on the Edge?...