Scientists learning to scale Rathlin cliffs in preparation for rat and ferret eradication project

Puffins are Rathlin Island's treasure; their flaming orange feet and beaks are the jewels the North Coast proudly shows off from March to August.

However, their numbers have dropped by three quarters from the 1990s, as rats and ferrets have been devastating colonies.

Rats have inhabited the island for over 100 years, presumably after initially arriving on a boat unbeknownst to the other passengers, while ferrets were deliberately introduced in an effort to kill some rabbits.

That did not have the desired effect, and both mammals' focus turned to the puffins as well as other rare ground-nesting birds.

So for years, human attention has been on getting rid of these non-native species again to rectify past mistakes.

There are now hundreds of ferrets and thousands of rats on the island while the bird population has taken a hit. Around 150 people also call the island home.

Last year, the £4.5million pound LIFE Raft Project was announced - DAERA, the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the LIFE Programme are footing the bill.

The headline now? After a year of intensive planning, the first traps for ferrets will be laid in two months time and training is intensifying.

To do that, the team have been on a specialist training course. I went along with camera and drone operator Ryan to observe.

There will be 450 ferret traps in total on the island six miles from Ballycastle.

The scientists involved have plotted where those traps will go and they're braced to start setting the high-tech units which can be checked remotely.

The team have to catch all the ferrets and have them shot or gassed before their attention turns to poisoning all the rats, because that's the only legal way to kill the ferrets.

It's thought it will take a year to complete phase one, before they start setting out 6,000 baiting stations to tackle the rat problem.

The challenge was figuring out how to get to the hard to reach places to catch the animals - Rathlin is famous for birds, not infrastructure.

In comes Climbwired International Ltd, to quite literally show them the ropes.

On day two of this specialist training, they were abseiling down ropes at the Rue Point.

Stuart Johnston from Climbwired gave this windy but informative interview, outlining the immense challenge that the LIFE Raft team will face.

The range of experience on the team is wide, and so is the area they've travelled for their work to date.

Charlie Bosanquet is the community outreach boss. She's from England originally but island life has claimed her heart so she's been living on Rathlin for eight years.

Now, she is doing her bit to help save its' environmental future.

Ric Else is from Manchester and is a senior research assistant.

Lydia Tidgerton, from South Wales, is a restoration ecologist and has worked in New Zealand for the last few years with Wildlife Management International.

Also from Wales is Jordan Hunt, a ferret trapper.

His ferret trapping colleague Finbar Butler is from close to the island. He is from Fairhead - so could likely see his home from the Rue Point on which we were standing.

Michael Rafferty is the ferret trapping coordinator and hails from the Scottish Borders but has been staying in NI for 10 years now.

Ulv Keller from Germany is also on the ferret trapping squad.

David Tosh heads up the LIFE Raft Team - more from him shortly.

James Crymble is a conservational scientist from Brighton. He took one for the team and gave this interview.

Time now for the ethical question - is it ok to eradicate two 'invasive' species out on the island, to save the birds?

The answer from everyone I spoke to was a resounding yes, they say it is a necessary evil that will prevent the rarest birds from being wiped out. They did however acknowledge that killing animals is not the reason anyone gets into conservation work and lessons will be learned from all of this.

The ferrets have been described as ruthless.

I'm told that one fell onto a grassy area that predators can't normally access at the Bull Lighthouse.

It meant the RSPB volunteers had to travel by boat to get to the area and lay a trap. In the 24 hours it took for them to catch that one single ferret, the animal killed 24 puffins, leaving a solemn graveyard in its wake.

Liam McFaul works for the RSPB, but he is also island born and bred.

He's glad they're ready to pull the trigger on these plans after years of watching "vicious" creatures , and also told me about the ramifications of bird flu.

This is a long-term project, so after all the rats and ferrets are gone, there will be a big focus on biosecurity to prevent history from repeating itself.

I asked David Tosh, who heads up this project, about that.

I understand that this story may be distressing to some, and may be a deterrent if a Rathlin trip was on the cards this summer.

Having spent the whole day there today, and at least a dozen other days in recent years, I can say that I have never seen a rat or a ferret there.

Liam McFaul confirmed that they don't go for people, and asked that potential visitors do not be afraid.

He said ferrets are nocturnal and would run away if you did stumble upon one, while rats are as elusive on the island as they are on the mainland.

The only thing to be apprehensive of, in my opinion, is the weather - and it was certainly on my side for this report.

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