Orkney’s Local Access Forum Conference
Orkney’s stoat eradication project was highlighted at the Orkney Local Access Forum (OLAF) conference on Friday 30th of November. The theme of the conference at the St Magnus Centre, Kirkwall was ’15 Years After the Land Reform Act, We Look Ahead’.
Sarah Sankey, RSPB Orkney Manager explained in detail the workings of the £7million ‘Orkney Native Wildlife Project’ aka stoat eradication programme which will be the largest of its kind in the world.
An Orkney survey to gauge how people would feel about eradicating stoats, which are a non native species recently introduced, was completed by 950 (4%) of Orcadians. The vast majority of respondents indicated that they wished to see stoats eradicated from Orkney.
All the traps used are ‘kill traps’ and 3 kinds have been trialled. Over the winter 41 stoats were caught . Sarah explained that because stoats are good swimmers surveys have also been conducted on some of Orkney’s islands which are closest to Mainland. The GPS tracked conservation dog brought over from New Zealand discovered what may be evidence of stoat activity on Hoy although there were no sightings.
The £7milllion eradication project received all its funding from outside sources:- The Heritage Lottery fund = £3.5million, The European Union Life Grant = £2.6 million and the rest of the funding made up by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).
Twenty-six staff in total will be employed by the project which will form 4 working groups:
- Bio Security
- Land Access
- Teacher training/schools
- Wildlife Friendly Community(which may merge with Destination Orkney
There will also be a Technical Advisory Group.
Sarah described the impact of stoats on native wildlife referring to the damage done in New Zealand where they were introduced to get rid of rabbits and are now threatening the existence of several species.
The stoats on Orkney seem to be confined to moorland, the coastline and unimproved grassland. Being voracious feeders and successful breeders Sarah said that there was a lot to lose in Orkney if they are not eradicated. Even free range poultry was under threat from them she explained and yet rats, geese and rabbits will be unaffected so those numbers will not reduce.
No one knows how stoats got into Orkney but the first reported sightings were in 2010. Part of the eradication programme will involve dog searches of cargo coming into Orkney from the Scottish Mainland to ensure stoats don’t get in via that route. The 5 year programme aims to involve the community and schools with an education officer working with all schools in Orkney. Traps will being to be set in July with the aim of killing 95% of the stoats. There will then be a ‘mopping’ up period when additional traps will be set and possibly the licensed shooting of stoats.
The Orkney Native Wildlife Project will rely on the co-operation of landowners to set traps and for staff parking.
Other speakers at the conference included Lord Wallace of Tankerness who described the history of the legislative process for land access which seems to be working well with the emphasis is on the rights of responsible access.
The Convenor of Orkney Islands Council, West Mainland farmer Harvey Johnston, commended the work of the Orkney Land Access Forum.
Describing himself as lucky to live in the most beautiful environment Harvey Johnston said that it was for all Orcadians to enjoy – whether they were native born or adoptive. Agriculture had shaped the Orkney countryside he said and the vast majority of land owners are fully supportive of access rights. He described the health benefits for physical and mental health and urged ‘folk to get oot n aboot’.
In the afternoon the conference heard from David Henderson-Howat, Convenor of the National Access Form and Ross Irvine, Rural Planner at OIC. The event was chaired by Councillor Steve Sankey, Chair of OLAF.
Reporter: Fiona Grahame