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Sky is the limit for rare flightless bird: Griffin

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The Hon. James Griffin, Minister for Environment (NSW), Media Release, 18 February 2023

More than 30 threatened species on Lord Howe Island are making a remarkable recovery after the introduction of a rodent control program by the NSW Liberal and Nationals Government in 2019.

Minister for Environment James Griffin said the population of one of Australia’s rarest birds, the Lord Howe Island Woodhen, has increased five-fold in four years, and more than doubled within 12 months.

“Lord Howe Island is a World Heritage listed island that is home to a number of threatened species found nowhere else on earth,” Mr Griffin said.

“The NSW Government’s rodent control program is a world first for a permanently inhabited island, and the results for the biodiversity on Lord Howe are remarkable.

“We’re seeing threatened and once-dwindling populations of plant and animal species reclaim the island after the removal of thousands of rodents.

“Our most recent survey found the population of endangered Woodhens has boomed to 1,147 birds, compared to about 209 in 2019 before the rodent control began, which is extraordinary because these birds were once on the brink of extinction, with the population as low as 30 in the 1970s.”

A recent Woodhen census was conducted by a team of Lord Howe Island Board staff, Taronga Conservation Society Australia and contractors who systematically searched the remote Island for three weeks to record the recovery of the Woodhen population.

Before the rodent control program began, there were thousands of rodents on the island, damaging plants and animals.

Since the program was introduced, more than 30 other threatened species found on Lord Howe Island have recovered, including:

  • the Lord Howe wood-feeding cockroach, presumed extinct on the main Island for at least 80 years, has been rediscovered at a site in the north. This has prompted further surveys to determine the extent of this species and the success of other invertebrates across the Island.
  • birds including the black-winged petrel, masked booby and Lord Howe currawong have demonstrated improved breeding success. Masked boobies are now breeding on the main Island, which hasn’t been seen since the introduction of rodents, and anecdotal observations suggest that the number of currawongs may have doubled.
  • four different critically endangered land snail species that were thought to be extinct have recently been recorded, including:
  1. the helicarionid land snail, which hasn’t been seen in 20 years and is only found in the upper slopes and summit of Mt Gower
  2. the Lord Howe microturban (its shell measuring a mere 2 mm), which is the first living specimen seen since 1913
  3. the first ever live sighting of a Deliciola charis, the most poorly known species on Lord Howe Island.
  • numerous plant species, including the critically endangered little mountain palm, have increased seedling and seed numbers, with recent surveys finding 17 times more juveniles at some sites compared to before rodent control.

Member for Port Macquarie Leslie Williams said the community plays a significant role in the continued success of the rodent control program.

“The Lord Howe Island community has been working to make sure the program is a success by supporting the strong biosecurity measures that the Lord Howe Island Board has put in place, including routine rodent detection dog searches throughout the Settlement area,” Ms Williams said.

“The Island has a huge range of unique plants and animals and the rodent control measures are delivering a great outcome that is helping to safeguard the future of this much-loved place.”

In the NSW Budget 2022-23, the Liberal and Nationals Government invested another $32.9 million over four years to continue supporting the delivery of a comprehensive biosecurity regime to protect the Island from rats and other invasive species.

The NSW Government is delivering the largest feral animal control program in the history of NPWS, and removing about 33,000 feral animals in 2021–22 from NSW national parks, and treating more than 38,882 hectares of weed.

For more information, visit keeps-lord-howe-island-pest-free


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