The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) is to spend some €50,000 in a bid to eradicate the significant rat population on the Saltee Islands.
The NPWS is taking the action in a bid to protect native seabirds living on the 120 acre Great Saltee, 5km off the coast of Kilmore Quay, which is home to thousands of seabirds including Puffins, Manx Shearwaters, Gannets, Guillemots and Razorbills.
Having undertaken significant research of Great Saltee's magnificent birds with University College Cork, the NPWS now plans to hire a contractor to draw up a plan to wipe out an infestation of rats on the island before the end of the year.
Dr Stephen Newton, Senior Seabird Conservation Officer with Bird Watch Ireland, says that the island is one of the top ten seabird colonies in the country, but pointed out that rats pose a major threat to the population there as they eat the seabirds' eggs. In addition, smaller seabirds are more vulnerable to being attacked by rats.
'Unfortunately most Irish islands that are inshore get rats,' Dr Newton explains.
'Sometimes it could be a historical shipwreck that brings them.'
'More recently, it might be fishing boats landing on islands and rocks that could be carrying rats. We also know that rats have a reasonable propensity to swim and they've been known to swim out to an island if they thing there's a food source available.'
In terms of methods, Dr Newton says that poisoning rats is easier than trying to trap them as they're nocturnal and live in the ground. In these matters, timing is everything and Dr Newton says that the programme to eradicate the rats won't begin until later this year.
'If you're going to try and poison a rat, you don't start in the middle of summer,' he explains. 'You try and hit when their natural feed is at it's lowest which is obviously mid winter.'
Hopefully the extermination will prove a success and Kilmore Quay will continue to welcome people from all over in pursuit of Puffins!