Be-ware of Stoats!

By Bernie Bell

Stoat by Peter Trimming

Stoat by Peter Trimming

On Tuesday 23rd January, Amy King of Scottish Natural Heritage and Bea Ayling of the RSPB talked and answered questions at ICIT, Stromness,  about the escalating problem with stoats on Orkney.

Many folk may not see the harm in stoats – they are quite attractive little creatures – but, the problem is – they predate birds, particularly ground-nesting birds. As Orkney has quite a lot of these, the arrival of stoats, could spell disaster for the birds, and possibly other native wildlife, such as voles – the Orkney Vole is specific to Orkney and we want to hold on to it!

Amy and Bea spoke to a gathering of staff and students from ICIT, plus a smattering of folk from Aquatera and EMEC.

SNH and the RSPB are currently focusing on the areas where the stoats which are presently on the Orkney Mainland, could, possibly, cross over to other islands, extending the problem even further.

Some of you may have seen the stoat traps, positioned discreetly in the countryside. They are lethal traps – but only stoats can be caught in them. They are weighted so that mice, voles etc. don’t register and are not caught. Rats, however, do get caught, which probably pleases the farmers as much as the stoats being disposed of.

Over 100 stoats have been dealt with so far, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but it does make a dent in the population and help prevent their spread to the smaller islands (stoats can swim).

The presentation at ICIT was part of the ongoing Orkney Native Wildlife Project, and there are other events happening around Orkney.

You can keep up with the project at their Facebook page and you may also be interested in the weekly blog called the ‘Stoat Snippet’. A questionnaire seeking people’s opinions on the stoat problem in Orkney is available online here.

And finally, here’s a link to the SNH report on the risks posed by stoats to Orkney’s native wildlife: Stoat (Mustela erminea) on the Orkney Islands – assessing the risks to native species

Stoat by Peter Trimming

Stoat by Peter Trimming

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18 replies »

  1. Why is not possible to catch, sterilise and release them? Seems kinder than wholesale slaughter.

    • I’ve asked about this and the answer I received is………….

      “Unfortunately a neutering programme wouldn’t work as it’s illegal to release a non-native species again after it has been trapped, plus the cost of doing so would not be feasible. When live trapping you need to check traps once a day legally, so checking 10,000 in a day again would not be feasible! .”

      It really is best to go straight to them as knows, for answers to questions.

  2. Re. one of my previous pieces in ‘The Orkney News’ – folk might ask why don’t I ask the stoats to leave? Well – stoats, is stoats – they are predators and have ‘attitude’. I don’t think they’d be interested in any attempt at gentle persuasion to leave Orkney for the good of the rest of the wildlife!

    • In Shetland our problem is not the stoat but its cousin the ‘Pole-Cat’. The story goes that some clown introduced a few to keep rabbits off their golf course but forgot the basic precaution of having them ‘sterilised’. A few years ago while discussing the problem with our local SSPCA Inspector, now retired, he told me that they were ‘protected’ yet he said they along with another non-native species, hedgehogs, were responsible for the drastic reduction of ground nesting birds. Nearly 30 years ago when I came to Shetland the rough grazing near our peat banks used to carpeted with ground nesting Maas, a type of seagull don’t know its book name, now there are none. The same goes for what was a large colony of Arctic Terns now considerably reduced. Here it must be said that decline is aided and abetted by the shortage of their main food source, sand eels.

  3. Oh Absolutely. The same goes for cats which are also fierce predators. But we sterilise feral cats if we can catch them and the same treatment could be applied to stoats. There is no need to kill them. If we stop them breeding, after five years or so they would die out naturally.

    I suppose we all have our preferences, and some people like birds and some like stoats, cats, otters etc. But what gives anyone the right to say one species deserves to survive and another deserves to die?

    Rarity? Well, five legged blue tigers might be rare but we surely wouldn’t go out of our way to preserve them, or breed them. (Actually, I suppose some people would.)

  4. Oh Dear, Bernie, another horrid thought has just struck me.

    I am not part of Orkney Native Wildlife myself, having arrived herre from England some twenty years ago.

    I do hope you are not intending to deport me back to my native land, or have some other horrendous outcome in store for me.

    • I think I need to point out, that I was reporting on the talk given by the lassies from SNH and RSPB.
      I, personally, can see how the arrival of stoats will knock the balance for the other wildlife in Orkney.
      My neighbour is also concerned about her chickens, which, at the moment, are entirely free-range – coming and going to their little hut, as they feel like it.
      I think it would be more to the point, if these discussions were taking place, between the readers of this article, the folk working on the Orkney Native Wildlife Project, and the stoat eradication programs, than with myself. I play no part in it, apart from having a concern regarding the possible effects of the arrival of stoats to Orkney.
      I, myself, am an incomer, but don’t predate the native ‘wildlife’, as I presume, you don’t either Julie.

      Once again, I am pleased to see that an item in ‘The Orkney News’ has got people thinking, and prompted discussion. But, I also feel, once again, that I put my head above the parapet, and get shot at for doing so! There is no need, or place, for sarcasm or snide remarks.
      Read the piece, think about what it’s saying – and – don’t shoot the messenger.
      This wasn’t one of my personal rants, in which case I would be a fair target for fair, reasoned comments. This piece was meant to report a situation, and a talk given about that situation.
      There is a link, for folk to send their own opinions to the ONWP.
      I will continue to write of things which I feel need to be thought about, or addressed, but in this case, throwing words at me, serves no purpose, whatsoever. I am not involved in either the ONWP, SNH, or the stoat eradication program. I am a member of the RSPB, and have been for many years, for many reasons – stoat eradication not even coming very high on that list of reasons.

      And, for myself, it’s not a matter of “preferences”. I value all life, each for what it is.
      It’s when we impact on each other, adversely, that some thought needs to be given to the situation – whatever that situation may be.

      A “five-legged blue tiger” wouldn’t have survived anyway – that’s why they don’t exist.

  5. Hello Mo Charleton
    I don’t do Facebook, so I can’t respond to you, there. Here’s a previous piece which was published in ‘The Orkney News’. May be of interest?

    I see it as all trying to keep some kind of balance in the world around us.
    That’s just me – the stoat control is in the hands of SNH and RSPB. The Cats Protection try to keep up with the feral cats. There is a legal, monitored cull of the geese. And so on and so on.
    We humans knock the balance out of kilter, more than anything else does!

  6. Hello Steven Wylie
    Once again, I don’t do Facebook, so I have to respond, through the main Orkney News website.
    I am not part of any of those organizations, either, which is why I wrote this article!! and why I included the links, for if folk want to get involved or comment.
    I am now beginning to heartily wish that I hadn’t bothered! People are aiming remarks at me, personally – and somewhat unfairly. That’s what a person gets, for getting involved.
    It’s all there, via the links I included, for folk who want to engage with it.
    Please contact the relevant organizations or individuals, with any recommendations, commendations, criticisms, gripes etc. etc.
    I’m signing off on this one.

  7. PS I was aiming to get the information out to a wider public – and look at what that has brought down on my head!
    I would say I won’t bother next time – but I know that I will.

  8. Oh, I’m sorry my joke was taken seriously. Really the root of this debate is not about stoats, it’s the old debate between people who resist change and those who are prepared to go along with it. .The world is and always has been in a constant state of flux so we might as well sit back and enjoy the ride while we’re here. In a few million years there probably won’t be any human beings left, let alone stoats.

  9. Sorry folks but with these type of animals you can’t just neuter them, they kill for a living like a lot of wild animals do. Just get on your laptop and lookup ferrets, weasels or stoats (especially) and New Zealand. Love to get my hands on the people (to put it politely) who ‘imported’ them into NZ although they have been dead for some years now. These animals are a nightmare

    • Hi Don,

      You could add, foxes to Australia, hedgehogs to Shetland and Orkney but the one that really takes the biscuit are the clowns who brought ‘pole-cats’ (without neutering first) to rid a golf course of rabbits. A few years ago we lost every one of our hens in a fit of blood-letting by a pole-cat. And to crown it all I believe they are a ‘protected species’, fortunately my late German Shepherd didn’t understand what protected species meant. Oh, and he was great with sheep, otters etc

  10. Hi Charles

    As you say, the foxes in Australia and the hedgehogs. That was one heck of a dog. Very intelligent
    The historians and natural historians tell us that NZ was ‘okay’. It had its natural pecking order. Then man arrived bringing rats, dogs, cats, the mustelids and Australian possums plus deer and goats. Unfortunately there are other imported animals which are having detrimental effects on the native wildlife. I spent most of my life in NZ, now retired here in Scotland, so I have plenty of sympathy concerning the situation with the wildlife here. I remember years ago reading as to how far the mustelids will swim. How they know there’s land out there o’er the water I just don’t know. Might be something to do with the old nose.
    Neutering is an interesting suggestion and can be humane when you think that the stoat or whatever will die off eventually. Just think of the carnage in the meanwhile.

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