Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels

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Read about recent developments and findings in procellariiform science and conservation relevant to the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels in ACAP Latest News.

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Featuring ACAP-listed species and their photographers: the White-chinned Petrel by Kalinka Rexer-Huber

Rexer Huber white chin Dec15 Adams Fairchilds
 White-chinned Petrel, Fairchild’s Garden, Adams Island, Auckland Islands, December 2015

NOTE:  This post continues an occasional series that features photographs of the 31 ACAP-listed species, along with information from and about their photographers.  Here, Kalinka Rexer-Huber, of the New Zealand-based environmental consultancy Parker Conservation describes the research she has conducted on the globally Vulnerable White-chinned Petrel Procellaria aequinoctialis.

Grahan Parker White chinned Petrel 1
Kalinka Rexer-Huber holds a
White-chinned Petrel under permit on Adams Island preparatory to fitting a tracking device; photograph by Graham Parker

White-chinned Petrels hold a special fascination for me.  I first met them south of New Zealand, flying around effortlessly across an ocean that threw seas over the ship.  Then I encountered them on islets in the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas* - a small handful of burrows that felt like discovering buried treasure.  I was happy to find White-chinned Petrels abundant on South Georgia/Islas Georgias del Sur*, liberally spread out in colonies noisy with chatter and display.  But petrels were not on my dance card, so my interest had to wait.  Meanwhile there were more ships enabling at-sea surveys of various kinds in the Falklands/Isla Malvinas*and back in New Zealand with more White-chinned Petrels to be recorded.  I was alarmed to learn then that this burrowing petrel is the seabird species most caught as bycatch by fisheries in the Southern Hemisphere.

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A White-chinned Petrel flies past the cliffs of Disappointment Island

My interest in White-chinned Petrels had to wait ten years until I could properly engage in all those brewing questions.  How many are there?  Where do they go to at sea?  Do different island populations forage in different areas, and how do they overlap with our fishing effort?  How are these different island populations related? It turns out that satisfactorily answering any one of these questions involved digging into the next, so I spent my PhD research at the University of Otago in Dunedin trying to pull together the lot.

Kalinka Rexer Huber White chinned Petrel 5
In flight over a breeding colony on Disappointment Island.  Unlike smaller burrowing petrels, White-chinned Petrel do come ashore and land during daylight hours

The how many are there question was least known for two of the New Zealand populations (Auckland and Campbell Island groups).  Population size estimates involve getting a good count of all the burrows, and then finding out what is in them.  The challenges of vegetation, other wildlife and the White-chinned Petrel’s apparent preference for some steep and rugged country.

Kalinka Rexer Huber White chinned Petrel 2 
White-chinned Petrel breeding habitat on Adams Island; deep in lush vegetation, including the purple-flowering Campbell Island Carrot Anisotome latifolia, one of the island’s megaherbs

But questions about differences in island populations cannot be properly answered without data from all of them.  White-chinned Petrels breed on a number of island groups ringing the Southern Ocean: Marion, Prince Edward, Crozet, Kerguelen, Auckland, Campbell, Antipodes, Falklands/Islas Malvinas* and South Georgia/Islas Georgias del Sur*.  Researchers studying White-chinned Petrels at several of these localities have generously offered tracking data and blood samples from their work, and we did our best to fill the gaps by tracking and sampling at Auckland and Campbell Islands.

Kalinka Rexer Huber White chinned Petrel 4
Out in the open on a rainy day on Disappointment Island, Auckland Islands

We are finding that New Zealand is home to a good quarter of the global White-chinned Petrel population; that they are returning to the main Campbell Island after being extirpated by rats (now eradicated); that petrels from different island populations do not share much of their foraging areas during the breeding season, but do overlap during their down-time in wintering areas; and that genetic differences show the species divides by oceanic basin into three evolutionarily significant units for management purposes.

Rexer Huber White chinned Petrel Disappointment Jan2015
White-chinned Petrel, Disappointment Island, Auckland Islands, January 2015

Those studies weren’t enough to get White-chinned Petrels out of my system.  I am now digging more into fisheries data to see what the tracked petrels can tell us about key areas and times when petrel fishing overlaps with human fishing, and what population(s) could benefit from targeted intervention there.  Our banding study in the Auckland Islands is simmering away.  There are limited opportunities to revisit the study colony, but every banded White-chinned Petrel in the hand adds to our ability to eventually look at adult survival.

Selected Scientific Publications:

Carneiro, A.P.B., Pearmain, E.J., Oppel, S., Clay, T.A., Phillips, R.A., Bonnet-Lebrun, A.-S., Wanless, R.M., Abraham, E., Richard, Y., Rice, J., Handley, J., Davies, T.E., Dilley, B.J., Ryan, P.G., Small, C., Arata, J., Arnould, J.P.Y., Bell, E., Bugoni, L., Campioni, L., Catry, P., Cleeland, J., Deppe, L., Elliott, G., Freeman, A., González-Solís, J., Granadeiro, J.P. Grémillet, D., Landers, T.J., Makhado, A., Nel, D., Nicholls, D.G., Rexer-Huber, K., Robertson, C.J.R., Sagar, P.M., Scofield, P., Stahl, J.-C., Stanworth, A., Stevens, K.L., Trathan, P.N., Thompson, D.R., Torres, L., Walker, K., Waugh, S.M., Weimerskirch, H. & Dias, M.P. 2020.  A framework for mapping the distribution of seabirds by integrating tracking, demography and phenology.  Journal of Applied Ecology [click here].

Dilley, B.J., Hedding, D.W., Henry, D.A.W., Rexer-Huber, K., Parker, G.C., Schoombie, S., Osborne, A. & Ryan, P.G. 2019.  Clustered or dispersed: testing the effect of sampling strategy to census burrow-nesting petrels with varied distributions at sub-Antarctic Marion Island. Antarctic Science 31: 231-242.  [click here].

Elliott, G., Walker, K., Parker, G.C., Rexer-Huber, K. & Miskelly, C.M. 2020.  Subantarctic Adams Island and its birdlife.  Notornis 67: 153–187.

Miskelly, C.M., Elliott, G.P., Parker, G.C., Rexer-Huber, K., Russ, R.B, Taylor, R.H., Tennyson, A.J.D. & Walker, K.J. 2020.  Birds of the Auckland Islands, New Zealand subantarctic.  Notornis  67: 59–151. [click here].

Rexer‐Huber, K. 2017.  White-chinned petrel distribution, abundance and connectivity have circumpolar conservation implications.  PhD thesis, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.  166 pp.  [click here].

Rexer-Huber. K., Parker, G.C., Sagar, P.M. & Thompson, D.R. 2017.  White-chinned petrel population estimate, Disappointment Island (Auckland Islands).  Polar Biology 40: 1053-1061.  [click here].

Rexer-Huber, K., Thompson, D.R. & Parker, G.C. 2020.  White-chinned petrel (Procellaria aequinoctialis) burrow density, occupancy, and population size at the Auckland Islands.  Notornis 67: 387-401.  [click here].

Rexer‐Huber, K., Veale, A.J., Catry, P., Cherel, Y., Dutoit, L., Foster, Y., McEwan, J.C., Parker, G.C., Phillips, R.S., Ryan, P.G., Stanworth, A.J., van Stijn, T., Thompson, D.R., Waters, J. & Robertson, B.C. 2019.  Genomics detects population structure within and between ocean basins in a circumpolar seabird: the white‐chinned petrel.  Molecular Ecology doi:10.1111/mec.15248.  [click here].

Walker, K., Elliott, G.P., Rexer-Huber, K., Parker, G.C., McClelland, P. & Sagar, P.M. 2020. Shipwrecks and mollymawks: an account of Disappointment Island birds.  Notornis 67: 213-245.

Kalinka Rexer-Huber, Parker Conservation, Dunedin, New Zealand, 20 October 2021

*A dispute exists between the Governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland concerning sovereignty over the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas), South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (Islas Georgias del Sur y Islas Sandwich del Sur) and the surrounding maritime areas.

The Tristan Albatrosses of Gough Island get some relief following the mouse eradication exercise

A Tristan Albatross chick in the Gonydale monitoring colony on Gough Island, now safe from mice?  Photograph by Michelle Risi

How have Critically Endangered Tristan Albatrosses Diomedea dabbenena been fairing on Gough Island since the completion of the bait drop against introduced House Mice Mus musculus by the Gough Island Restoration Programme (GIRP) earlier this year?  Seems there has been improvement in breeding success in some areas but not in others, as explained in a recent blog post:

“Every year our Overwintering Team conduct their ‘round island’ count at this time to establish how many Tristan albatross chicks survived the winter to reach a size and age at which they are likely to go on and fledge (in December). This year the weather was too poor for the team to complete the check in one (three-day long) trip and so we were made to wait on tenterhooks for a few days longer than usual. But the numbers are now in and it is fair to say it is a mixed bag.

We always expected chicks would still be lost this year, but we hoped to be able to start baiting before the worst of the winter hardships hit the mice – and consequently, the albatross. During incubation and for the first couple of months of its life, Tristan albatross chicks have a parent close by at all times. At the end of this brood-guard phase, the parents are (largely) both away at sea, returning to provision the chick but not to stay with it. It is possible that albatross chicks are particularly vulnerable at this point, and on Gough this vulnerability is likely exacerbated as it coincides with the start of winter when food options for mice begin to run out.

Our team do two round island counts – one at the start of the year and one in Sept/Oct. But between those times, they also make regular (approximately monthly) checks at two colonies that are closer to home – Tafelkop and Gonydale. At these two colonies, no fresh mouse wounds were observed after the first baiting in the area and chick survival was high. The figures from these sites are amazing – 70.9% at Gonydale and an astonishing 92.9% at Tafelkop – far higher than we’ve recorded before.

But all in all, breeding success for this year across the whole island comes in at 39.7% - not much higher than last year’s 37.2%.

It is crucial to appreciate that this is NOT indicative of the outcome of the eradication operation – most likely merely a reflection of the point at which we were able to distribute bait combined with the end of the brood-guard phase. Importantly, high breeding success across the island would not have been indicative of success either – if mice are still present on the island, they are likely to be few in number and may not need to attack albatross chicks to survive. This is part of the reason why we won’t be able to ascertain whether the eradication attempt was successful for at least two years. Hopefully we will, however, be able to report on greatly improved Tristan albatross breeding success before then.”

Note:  The ACAP Information Officer (with the essential help of friends and colleagues in the field) established the Gonydale and Tafelkop monitoring colonies by staking nests and colour- and metal-banding incubating adults of the two Tristan Albatross demi-populations over the consecutive summers of 2006/07 and 2007/08.  The news of vastly improved breeding success in these two study colonies is thus especially pleasing to him.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 20 October 2021

Albatrosses and petrels can accumulate chemicals from ingested plastics

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Figure from the publication

Rei Yamashita (Laboratory of Organic Geochemistry, Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, Japan) and colleagues have published open access in the journal Environmental Monitoring and Contaminants Research on the levels of pollutants in preen gland oil of albatrosses, petrels, shearwaters and other seabirds.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“Plastic pollution, and its associated impacts on marine fauna due to chemical contamination, is an area of growing global concern. We analyzed 145 preen gland oil samples from 32 seabird species belonging to 8 families with different foraging habits and life history strategies from around the world for plastic additives and legacy persistent organic pollutants. The additives included two brominated flame retardants (decabromodiphenyl ether, BDE209; decabromo diphenyl ethane, DBDPE) and six benzotriazole UV stabilizers (BUVSs; UVP, UV326, UV329, UV328, UV327, and UV234). Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and organochlorine pesticides (Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane and its metabolites: DDTs and hexachlorocyclohexane: HCHs) were detected ubiquitously. High concentrations of PCBs (up to 20,000 ng/g-lipid) were observed in the seabirds from higher-trophic level taxa. These patterns can be attributed to PCB exposure via their diet and associated biomagnification. DDT concentrations showed strong positive correlations with PCB concentrations, suggesting that DDTs in seabirds are also a result of diet and biomagnification. Plastic additives were detected sporadically as BDE209 and DBDPE were detected in 16 seabirds from 10 species (range: 3–379 ng/g-lipid) and BUVSs were detected in 46% (67) of the examined individuals (range: 2–7,055 ng/g-lipid). UV stabilizers were more frequently detected than flame retardants because UV stabilizers are more widely applied to plastic products. None of the plastic additives were correlated to the presence of PCBs, nor were they explained by the foraging area or trophic level. High concentrations of additives were detected in the species with high levels of plastic in their digestive tracts. In some of these species, such as Hawaiian petrels (Pterodroma sandwichensis) from Hawaii and flesh-footed shearwaters (Ardenna carneipes) from Western Australia, plastics were directly observed in the stomach. For other species, including great shearwaters (Ardenna gravis) from Gough Island, blue petrels (Halobaena caerulea) from Marion Island, and black-footed and Laysan albatrosses (Phoebastria nigripes and P. immutabilis) from Hawaii, plastic ingestion has been documented in literature. These patterns can be explained if the additives are mainly from ingested plastics rather than diet. The detection of BFRs and BUVSs demonstrated that a significant proportion of the examined seabirds accumulated chemicals from ingested plastics.”


Yamashita, R., Hiki, N., Kashiwada, F., Takada, H., Mizukawa, K.,  Hardesty, B.D., Roman, L., Hyrenbach, D., Ryan, P.G., Dilley, B.J., Muñoz-Pérez, J.P.,  Valle, C.A., Pham, C.K., Frias, J., Nishizawa, B., Takahashi, A., Thiebot, J.-B., Will, A.,  Kokubun, N., Watanabe, Y.Y., Yamamoto, T., Shiomi, K., Shimabukuro, U. & Watanuki 2021.  Plastic additives and legacy persistent organic pollutants in the preen gland oil of seabirds sampled across the globe.  Environmental Monitoring and Contaminants Research 1: 97-112.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 18 October 2021

Featuring ACAP-listed species and their photographers: the Light-mantled Albatross by Jaimie Cleeland

 Jaimie Cleeland Light mantled Albatross 15
On ‘Macca’ Light-mantled Albatrosses breed among sub-Antarctic megaherbs, here the broad-leafed
Macquarie Island Cabbage Stilbocarpa polaris

NOTE:  This post continues an occasional series that features photographs of the 31 ACAP-listed species, along with information from and about their photographers.  Here, Jaimie Cleeland, a Fisheries Scientist at the Australian Antarctic Division and the University of Tasmania, describes her research conducted on the globally Near Threatened Light-mantled Albatrosses Phoebetria palpebrata that breed on Australia’s sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island.

Jaimie Cleeland Light mantled Albatross
Jaimie Cleeland approaches Light-mantled Albatrosses breeding on the steep slopes of Macquarie Island; all such visits are conducted under a research permit

If you’re ever lucky enough to visit one of the many sub-Antarctic islands that Light-mantled Albatrosses breed on – you will mostly likely hear them before you see them!  Their Sky Point display, coupled with a distinctive – and evocative - “pee-aahh” call, is what first caught my attention and drew my eyes to the steep escarpments of Macquarie Island.  It is on these exposed cliffs that the Light-mantled Albatrosses breed – making it challenging for field biologists, such as myself, to access their nests to check their breeding status or read the number of a leg band.  Although it doesn’t usually take very long – perhaps just a few visits to the monitoring colony before you achieve “mountain goat” abilities and become comfortable working safely at heights. It is then your attention can turn to their aerial acrobatics as pairs whizz by in synchronized flight – a display of courtship.

Jaimie Cleeland Light mantled Albatross 9
The light blue sulcus on the lower mandible distinguishes the Light-mantled from the Sooty Albatross with its yellow sulcus

During the Macquarie Island Pest Eradication Project (MIPEP), I regularly visited several of the island’s research monitoring sites to conduct breeding surveys of Light-mantled Albatrosses from 2011 to 2014 (click here).  In 2013, with the help of a dedicated team of rabbit and rodent hunters, we scoured the whole island, finding 2151 occupied nests.  A ground search of this magnitude, conducted over steep terrain, was a huge achievement for our team.

Jaimie Cleeland Light mantled Albatross 8
A Light-mantled Albatross chick sits up to eye the photographer

Light-mantled Albatrosses then became a subject of my PhD thesis at the University of Tasmania.  Even though I was no longer living on “Macca”, as the island is affectionally called by its human visitors, I spent my days trying to understand their patterns in foraging behaviour and their vulnerability to invasive species, climate change and fisheries impacts.  I found that during breeding, Light-mantled Albatrosses foraged farther south than any of the other albatrosses that breed on Macquarie and during the non-breeding period some tracked individuals even circumnavigated the whole of Antarctica.

Jaimie Cleeland Light mantled Albatross 13
Light-mantled Albatrosses gather to meet and greet

Like all albatrosses, Light-mantled Albatrosses spend the majority of their life at sea.  For the birds breeding on Macquarie I found large-scale climate cycles such as the El Nino – Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the Southern Annular Mode influenced their survival.  Despite their predominantly oceanic life.  I also found conditions at the colony can impact this species. Damage to nesting habitat on the steep slopes of Macquarie Island caused by heavy rabbit grazing reduced their likelihood of breeding.

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A Light-mantled Albatross fly by

Luckily the Macquarie Island Pest Eradication Project was successful in removing rabbits, rats and mice from the island and the slopes that the Light-mantled Albatross call home are lush and green once more!

Selected Publications:

Beal, M., Dias, M.P., Phillips, R.A., Oppel, S., Hazin, C., Pearmain, E.J., Adams, J. , Anderson, D.J., Antolos, M., Arata, J.A., Arcos, J.M., Arnould, J.P., Awkerman, J., Bell, E., Bell, M. Carey, M., Carle, R., Clay, T.A., Cleeland, J., Colodro, V., Conners, M. Cruz-Flores, M., Cuthbert, R., Delord, K., Deppe, L., Dilley, B.J., Dinis, H., Elliott, G., De Felipe, F., J. Felis, M.G. Forero, A. Freeman, A. Fukuda, J. González-Solís, J.P. Granadeiro, A. Hedd, P. Hodum, J. M. Igual, A. Jaeger, T.J. Landers, M. Le Corre, A. Makhado, B. Metzger, T. Militão, W.A. Montevecchi, V. Morera-Pujol, L. Navarro-Herrero, D. Nel, D. Nicholls, D. Oro, R. Ouni, K. Ozaki, F. Quintana, R. Ramos, T. Reid, J.M. Reyes-González, C. Robertson, G. Robertson, M.S. Romdhane, P.G. Ryan, P. Sagar, F. Sato, S. Schoombie, R.P. Scofield, S.A. Shaffer, N.J. Shah, K.L. Stevens, C. Surman, R.M. Suryan, A. Takahashi, V. Tatayah, G. Taylor, D.R. Thompson, L. Torres, K. Walker, R. Wanless, S.M. Waugh, H. Weimerskirch, T. Yamamoto, Z. Zajkova, L. Zango & P. Catry 2021.  Global political responsibility for the conservation of albatrosses and large petrels.  Science Advances (10).  DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abd7225. [click here].

Carneiro, A.P.B., Pearmain, E.J., Oppel, S., Clay, T.A., Phillips, R.A., Bonnet-Lebrun, A.-S., Wanless, R.M., Abraham, E., Richard, Y., Rice, J., Handley, J., Davies, T.E., Dilley, B.J., Ryan, P.G., Small, C., Arata, J., Arnould, J.P.Y., Bell, E., Bugoni, L., Campioni, L., Catry, P., Cleeland, J., Deppe, L., Elliott, G., Freeman, A., González-Solís, J., Granadeiro, J.P. Grémillet, D., Landers, T.J., Makhado, A., Nel, D., Nicholls, D.G., Rexer-Huber, K., Robertson, C.J.R., Sagar, P.M., Scofield, P., Stahl, J.-C., Stanworth, A., Stevens, K.L., Trathan, P.N., Thompson, D.R., Torres, L., Walker, K., Waugh, S.M., Weimerskirch, H. & Dias, M.P. 2020.  A framework for mapping the distribution of seabirds by integrating tracking, demography and phenology.  Journal of Applied Ecology  [click here]

Cleeland, J. 2017. Factors that drive demographic change in a community of albatrosses.  PhD thesis.  Hobart: University of Tasmania.  153 pp.  [click here]

Cleeland, J.B., Alderman, R., Bindoff, A., Lea, M.-A., McMahon, C.R., Phillips, R.A., Raymond, B., Sumner, M.D., Terauds, A., Wotherspoon, S.J. & Hindell, M.A. 2019.  Factors influencing the habitat use of sympatric albatrosses from Macquarie Island.  Marine Ecology Progress Series 609: 221-237. [click here]

Cleeland, J.B., Pardo, D., Raymond, B., Terauds, A., Alderman, R., McMahon, C.R., Phillips, R.A., Lea, M.-A. & Hindell, M.A. 2020.  Introduced species and extreme weather as key drivers of reproductive output in three sympatric albatrosses.  Scientific Reports: 10: 8199.  [click here]

Cleeland, J.B., Pardo, D., Raymond, B., Tuck, G.N., McMahon, C.R., Phillips, R.A., Alderman, R., Lea, M.-A. & Hindell, M.A. 2021.  Disentangling the influence of three major threats on the demography of an albatross community.  Frontiers in Marine Science doi: 10.3389/fmars.2021.578144.  [click here]

Jones, C.W., Risi, M.M., Cleeland, J. & Ryan, P.G. 2019.  First evidence of mouse attacks on adult albatrosses and petrels breeding on sub-Antarctic Marion and Gough Islands.  Polar Biology  [click here].

Requena, S., Oppel, S., Bond, A.L., Hall, A., Cleeland, J., Crawford, R.J.M., Davies, D., Dilley, B.J., Makhado, A., Ratcliffe, N., Reid, T.A., Ronconi, R.A., Schofield, A., Steinfurth, A., Wege, M., Bester, M.[N.] & Ryan, P.G. 2020.  Marine hotspots of activity inform protection of a threatened community of pelagic species in a large oceanic jurisdiction.  Animal Conservation  [click here]

Jaimie Cleeland, Australian Antarctic Division, Kingston and University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia, 15 October 2021

“After the cats…tackling mice on Marion Island”- Professor Peter Ryan discusses eradicating House Mice in the sub-Antarctic

PeterRyan Photo
Peter Ryan, Director of the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology

Professor Peter Ryan, Director of the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town, South Africa and Chair of the Mouse-Free Marion Project’s Scientific and Technical Advisory Group, recently presented an illustrated talk on the conservation of Marion IslandThe online talk on 7 October was in the Unlocking Nature series arranged by the Leadership for Conservation in Africa.  The LCA invites a diverse range of speakers to share their conservation stories with global audiences.

After the cats…tackling mice on Marion Island

In his presentation, titled “After the cats…tackling mice on Marion Island”, Peter discussed the devastating impacts introduced House Mice Mus musculus are having on the seabirds of the island in the southern Indian Ocean, attacking and killing both chicks and breeding adults of surface-nesting albatrosses and burrowing petrels.  He described the development of techniques that have enabled operations to eradicate mice and other rodents from sub-Antarctic islands successfully, such as Antipodes and Macquarie, and this year’s effort to eradicate mice on Gough Island.  He then went on to describe the plans currently underway by the Mouse-Free Marion Project to eradicate the mice on South Africa’s Marion Island.  If successful, Marion will be the largest sub-Antarctic island freed of its mice in a single operation.

Grey headed Albatross 1 Ben Dilley
Next in line?  A Grey-headed Albatross chick begs for food on Marion Island, with the carcass of a chick killed by mice on an adjacent nest; photograph by Ben Dilley

The presentation was followed by a lively Q&A session, with Peter and Anton Wolfaardt, the Mouse-Free Marion Project Manager, answering the audience’s many questions.  The 80-minute recording of the whole presentation can also be found on Mouse-Free Marion website in the interviews section.

With thanks to Robyn Adams, Communications Officer, Mouse-Free Marion Project.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 14 October 2021