AN ISLAND’S rat population will be eradicated under a £4.6m scheme being considered by wildlife chiefs.
Scientists have been studying brown rats on the island of Rum on the west coast of Scotland amid fears they are eating seabirds.
But it is still not clear if the rodents have an impact on the populations of Manx Shearwaters, small black and white birds that nest on the island’s high mountains.
A study into looking at the Rum rats has just been published and concluded that there was “low levels of rat activity at the study sites during the first three years of the project”.
Nevertheless government body Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) is exploring the possibility of forking out millions to get rid of them in what opponents are branding a “baffling” and “expensive experiment”.
Similar schemes have been undertaken on other Scottish islands, including the neighbouring island of Canna in 2005.
But after spending £600,000 getting rid of brown rats the island was plagued with a massive boom in rabbits.
A further cull of 9,000 bunnies was subsequently ordered after islanders complained that walls and graves were being destroyed by burrowing.
Chris Donald, SNH South Highland operations manager, said: “Any scheme to remove the rats would be extremely costly.
“All eradication schemes, no matter where, are expensive.
“And while at SNH we have world-leading experience in high-technology removal projects – the Hebridean Mink Project has been lauded by international scientists for its approach – we do have to consider the public view.”
However he continued: “Removal is a valuable tool that we can use if necessary.
“Invasive rodents have been implicated in declines and extinctions of seabird populations worldwide. However the impact of rat species is regarded as one of the most significant global threats to seabirds.
“So we need to consider our next moves amid the knowledge that hundreds of rodent eradication campaigns have been undertaken on islands worldwide.”
He added: “Brown rats were also eradicated from the neighbouring island of Canna in 2005/2006 to restore breeding habitats for Manx shearwaters and other seabirds.”
A spokesman for TaxPayerScotland was outraged that a government body was considering spending £4.6m on an eradication programme.
He said: “Only a government quango could come up with the idea of spending millions on a programme that might not actually work.
“Taxpayers will be baffled that this is even being considered when we’re allegedly in the midst of a deficit reduction plan.”
He added: “Eradicating wasteful spending should be top of the list, not this expensive experiment.”