SG Ariel Baiting – on South Georgia Baited Breath was the order of the day as it was down to the wire if aerial baiting to eradicate rodents would be finished before winter set in. The rat eradication programme was in danger as the infrequent patches of flyable conditions allowed only rare short spells of suitable weather. . The field team spent most of the first two weeks of May in the forward operating bases just waiting and hoping for a better weather break. This season’s fieldwork targeted all the rodent infested coastal areas around the northern end of the Island north of the Thatcher Peninsula, a total area of more than 143,000 acres. By the end of April only one section remained to be baited - at the far northern tip of the Island - but it was also the largest in the northern zone. With winter setting in there was shortening daylight for flying, and more regular snow flurries, which, if they accumulated, could lead at any time to the cessation of baiting.
The team also needed to factor in enough time to move the remaining field workers, camp, equipment and three helicopters back to King Edward Point (KEP) to be ready to ship out in early June. The usual weather for the northern tip of the Island, low cloud and katabatic wind, seemed unrelenting. Many were really fearful the section would not be completed. The financial impact of that alone would have been several hundred thousand pounds and would have made the logistics of completing the project in a following season much more complicated. So it was a huge relief when it was learnt that on the 8th May (2013) the last pellet had been dropped over Hope Valley and the last section was fully baited. Jon done!
The work was not over when baiting was complete as Project gear was spread between various camps but time was short so in three days any suitable flying weather saw the helicopters scurrying around whilst the team packed up the camps, moved fuel drums and set to cleaning and storing equipment at Grytviken. The helicopters were then dismantled and packed into five (shipping) containers to be shipped to the UK for major servicing.
This season’s fieldwork means that 70% of the rodent-infested area of the Island has now been baited, leaving 74,000 acres left to do at the southern end of the Island, leaving the question securing the funding (£ 2 million pounds) to allow the ‘Team’ to return in two years’ time (2015) to finish the whole project.