Culling all rats in Ireland “would be absolutely great for seabirds”, a leading environmentalist has said.
New Zealand is currently in the middle of an ambitious plan to eliminate invasive species in order to protect its native bird life.
The cost to the New Zealand economy of invasive species is estimated at €1.84bn a year and the Government hopes to achieve its target by 2050.
“The rats came to New Zealand with the white people from this side of the world,” environmentalist Éanna Ní Lamhna told The Hard Shoulder.
“And because… all of the creatures on New Zealand were ground nesting birds, the rats played havoc.”
Rats are also not native to Ireland but they have been here for centuries and have flourished since their arrival.
“What’s the Irish word for a rat?” Ms Ní Lamhna said.
“Francach - and francach means ‘the stranger’, it doesn’t necessarily mean a French person.
“The strangers came in on the boats and the rats came with the boats and the sailors where anybody ever went.
“There are no rats on Tory Island because they never got there; you only got to Tory Island - long ago - on a currach.
“You’d know very well… if you had a rat in the currach.”
Ms Ní Lamha said culling all rats in Ireland would boost the ecosystem but would be “very difficult” to achieve.
“They feed on seabirds in particular, so if we could rats off our island, it would be absolutely great for seabirds that nest on the ground,” she said.
The only feasible way to do so would be to poison them - something that implications for other specieis.
“The trouble is, people put out poison for rats [and] 80% of our barn owls actually have… rat poison in them,” she said.
“The BirdWatch Ireland people did a survey a couple of years ago and they discovered this.
“So, the poison in the rats goes up through the food chain and that isn’t anything we want either.”
There are an estimated 10.5 million rats in Ireland.