An elusive rat which stalked the nature-reserve home of rare nesting seabirds has been caught and killed, just before the breeding season begins.
For three months, staff from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) which manages Coquet Island had been searching for the rodent, which despite their best efforts had evaded capture.
Nicknamed Roland the super-rat, he managed to avoid traps which were filled with various baits, including pork pies, pâté, fish, Cadbury’s Dairy Milk chocolate and a smelly cheese brought back from Paris by Paul Morrison, the island’s warden.
The clever creature even avoided a trap laced with the musk of another male rat that was intended to lure him into investigating a potential competitor.
The island, about one mile off Amble, is home to Britain’s last colony of endangered roseate terns, as well as thousands of puffins.
Staff were beginning to panic because rats are a severe threat to seabirds as they prey on their eggs. One rat could devastate the colony of 100 breeding pairs of roseate terns, which are due to arrive on the island this month.
So, at the end of March, with the breeding season about to begin, desperate measures were needed. The Duke of Northumberland, the island’s owner, visited and, learning of the rat, which was detected in January and is thought to have swum there, offered the services of his gamekeepers and their dogs.
Two gamekeepers and two dogs were swiftly dispatched by inflatable motor dinghy.
Within an hour, the dogs had located Roland, flushed him out and Ben, a one-year-old Patterdale terrier, killed him immediately.
The result came as a relief to Mr Morrison, who has been protecting birds on Coquet Island for 33 years and said that no rat had been reported previously on the island in records going back to 1841.
He said: “We tried everything but the rat’s tastes were not what we were offering.
“We needed to catch it because otherwise you could kiss the last roseate tern colony goodbye. One rat would just take all the eggs. The gamekeepers saved the day.”
He added that the episode had shown the benefits of gamekeepers. Mr Morrison said: “Conservation isn’t just about saving everything, it’s active management in order to save.
“It was very fortuitous to have a landlord with the capacity to step in and help. The gamekeepers are so skilled at what they do.”
Following the capture, the Duke said: “The wardens do a wonderful job on Coquet Island and it was a pleasure to be able to help out.”