University of Dundee University of Dundee
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4 July 2013

Team Rat successfully complete Phase 2 of habitat restoration project

photo of Tony Martin

Tony Martin, Professor of Animal Conservation at the University of Dundee, has successfully led the largest ever rodent eradication project to protect the vital seabird sanctuary of South Georgia.

Professor Martin headed up a 25-strong international team engaged in the latest stage of a bid to rid the isolated island of millions of invasive rats and mice, which threaten the survival of one of the world's most important seabird sanctuaries.

'Team Rat' aimed to thinly spread nearly 200 tonnes of bait pellets from three helicopters across the target area to reach rodent territory from sea level to mountain-top.

Despite battling the worst weather seen in the rugged, glacial landscape in the sub-Antarctic for a decade, they managed to bait 580km2 over the course of 600 flying hours and more than 1,000 individual flights. This means that 70 per cent of the rat-infested areas of South Georgia are now baited, five times larger than any other rodent eradication area.

Professor Martin is Director of the University's Centre for Remote Environments and is seconded to the South Georgia Heritage Trust (SGHT), which is also based in Dundee.

He said, 'I am delighted that we successfully completed Phase 2 of this internationally important conservation project. We battled against the odds with the weather, our biggest enemy, but through great teamwork and planning we managed to meet our target.

'To clear this magnificent island of rodents accidentally introduced by humans has been an ambition of mine for over a decade and I am thrilled we are well on the way to securing this important seabird habitat for future generations.'

Professor Martin is one of the world's leading experts in whale and dolphin behaviour, and has carried out marine mammal research from the Arctic to the tropics. He has been a UK delegate to the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission since 1979.

The field of bio-remediation is growing rapidly, and the removal of alien species from ecosystems that they have profoundly modified offers enormous opportunities for pure and applied research.

Unwittingly, humans have made South Georgia into a unique ecological experiment, and there is considerable potential for research to measure and model the impact of removing the main introduced stressors of the terrestrial habitat.

Team Rat team consisted of four pilots, two engineers, three chefs, two doctors and field staff with expertise ranging from GPS and data management, to meteorology, polar logistics and an intimate knowledge of South Georgia and its wildlife. Together, this highly experienced group possessed all the skills and expertise needed to tackle every challenge that the island threw at them.

Having arrived in South Georgia on 10th February 2013, they began laying bait depots, flying 800 loads of fuel, bait, equipment and food from the helideck of the British Antarctic Survey's logistics ship RRS Ernest Shackleton to fourteen separate forward operating bases, working in a clockwise direction around the coast.

Aerial baiting commenced on March 4th. GPS tracking systems were used to keep an accurate record of bait coverage. By March 7th, the first three depots had been exhausted of bait.

Alongside the aerial baiting, hand-baiting of the four huge abandoned whaling stations at Husvik, Stromness, Leith and Prince Olav also took place. By April 14th, the team had spread exactly 70 per cent of the bait deposited ashore in February from the Shackleton.

The final area to be baited - the Northwest Zone - was the largest and most challenging of all. At 1,500 feet, flying without a door so they could clearly see the bait drop below, the pilots endured temperatures of -14C. Conditions were so poor that equipment froze solid, and powdery snow threatened to halt the operation so tantalizingly close to completion.

On May 18th 2013, the team made one last push. As the light was fading and the final bait bucket was emptied, they met their 2013 baiting target of 580km2. By this time, the helicopters had flown a combined total of 600 hours over South Georgia and made over 1,000 flights.

Natural Environment Minister Richard Benyon said: 'I would like to thank everyone involved in this fantastic project and I am delighted that DEFRA has been able to contribute to its success. Eradicating rats on this island will help secure the future of the rare birds that breed here and safeguard populations for future generations.'

In further positive news, monitoring over the last two years has shown no sign of rats in the area baited during Phase 1, which took place in 2011. The Trust therefore believes that the trial has been successful in eradicating every rat in the area treated in 2011.

The SGHT is now fundraising for the final season of work on this ambitious £7.5million project. To date, SGHT and its US counterpart Friends of South Georgia Island (FOSGI) have raised some £5million towards completing the eradication project.

Over the next 12 months, both organisations will work hard to secure the £2.5million required to complete the project in early 2015, when the remaining 300 rodent-infested square kilometres of South Georgia will be baited. A further £500,000 will be required for monitoring to check that no rats or mice remain on the island.

Howard Pearce, Chairman of the Trustees, said, 'The success of Team Rat in completing the baiting of the huge Phase 2 area has just been phenomenal. Moreover, we now have the results of two years of monitoring the trial phase from 2011, and we are delighted that not a single sign of rodent has been seen in the trial area.

'This news increases our confidence in the success of our baiting strategy as we move forward into fundraising for the final phase which we hope to complete in 2015.

The Trust would like to express its deep appreciation to the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands and to the British Antarctic Survey. Without the assistance received in various ways from these two bodies it would not have been possible for the Trust to carry out this work.'

Notes to editors:

Media contacts
Jane Bevan or Susannah Penn, Firebird Public Relations
T: 01235 835297 / 07977 459 547
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For further information about the Habitat Restoration Project visit:

  • The South Georgia Heritage Trust was founded in 2005 to preserve the sub-Antarctic island's human and cultural heritage, raise awareness of the island's endangered flora and fauna through research and public engagement, and manage practical conservation programmes to protect native species.
  • South Georgia is one of the world's last great wilderness areas and amongst the wildlife on the island are 90% of the world's Antarctic fur seals and half the world's elephant seals. Four species of penguin nest on the island, including King Penguins with around 400,000 breeding pairs. The island's birdlife includes albatross, skuas and petrels, as well as the South Georgia Pipit, and the South Georgia Pintail. But although the wildlife remains impressive, it is but a shadow of what Captain Cook encountered when he discovered and named South Georgia in 1775. Rats and mice, arriving in the ships of sealers and whalers, have spread over much of the island and destroy the eggs and chicks of most of the native birds. The aim of SGHT's project is to eradicate these predatory rodents and allow millions of birds to reclaim their ancestral home.
  • The trial phase (Phase 1) of the Habitat Restoration Project was successfully completed in March 2011 - in just 28 days - already making this project the largest island rodent eradication operation ever undertaken in the world. This part of South Georgia is now believed to be rat free for the first time in two centuries.
  • The £7.5 million project has been supported by donations from UK, US and Norwegian Trusts and Foundations and from individual supporters, including thousands of cruise-ship passengers, whose visits to South Georgia have inspired support for this fragile ecosystem. The project has also received a grant of £250,000 from the UK Government (DEFRA) and a grant of £253,058 from the Darwin Initiative. Help in kind has come from US Bell Laboratories who supplied bait free of charge for the pilot phase; while in the UK, the Kingfisher group, through its subsidiaries B&Q and Screwfix has provided a wide range of hardware and electrical goods.
  • SGHT worked closely with the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) in preparing for Phase 2 of the Habitat Restoration Project. Additional support has also been received from various Antarctic tour operators in transporting personnel and equipment.
  • South Georgia is a UK Overseas Territory administered by the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, which is based in the Falkland Islands.

For media enquiries contact:
Grant Hill
Press Officer
University of Dundee
Nethergate, Dundee, DD1 4HN
TEL: 01382 384768
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