A team of three dog handlers with their two spaniels, Thorn and Scout, and black Labrador, Spud, have been searching for signs of stoats across all terrain, high and low in the islands of Hoy, Walls and Graemsay. Their efforts focused on the most likely areas for a stoat to live, such as moorland and coast.
The dog teams are part of the Orkney Native Wildlife Project (ONWP) . No signs of stoat were found from these sweeps of the targeted areas.
Chris Bell, ONWP Biosecurity Officer, said:
“This is truly fabulous news, and we are very proud to have accomplished it. We certainly couldn’t have achieved this mammoth task without the incredible support of everyone on Hoy, Walls and Graemsay. We are so grateful for the warm welcome we received and valuable community co-operation.”
The islands are the first in Orkney to implement their own specific island biosecurity plan in a collaboration between project and island community to protect the area from the invasive non-native stoats.
The islands have a rich native wildlife on the islands which the ONWP say would be badly affected should stoats arrive from Mainland, the largest of Orkney’s islands.
Long Term Strategy
Crucial to the long-term strategy to help protect islands from a stoat arriving is establishing plans with the individual island communities. These biosecurity plans set out what checks and strategies will be in place to help keep their islands stoat-free. The Graemsay, Hoy and Walls Community Council were the first of ONWP’s island partners to approve their specific biosecurity plan, and which is now fully operational.
Grace Robertson of Littlewards Farm, Hoy and member of Graemsay Hoy & Walls Community Council said:
“We were looking to the future at the Hoy community council. The threat of stoats reaching Hoy had given us a wakeup call and as a farmer I know we must work on both sides of the fence to ensure our island is protected.
“Working with the project gives us a sense of security and we know we can approach them and have the reassurance that what we are doing together works. All the people concerned are very proactive, constructive and on the ball. They are very dedicated and do the job in a professional manner chipping away in the background. They deserve a round of applause!”
The checks by Europe’s first stoat detection conservation dogs confirm the absence of stoats that the project’s other monitoring methods (monitoring tunnels, coastal trapping network and trail cameras) have also shown.
Crucial to the stoat monitoring effort is also any public reports from the high-risk islands within stoat swimming distance of Mainland.
Chris Bell added:
“We value any reports from folk who think they have seen a stoat. It can be difficult to identify any animal when moving fast, seen from a distance, or disappearing into bushes, but we believe it is better to be safe than be sorry. If anyone on the islands think they have seen a stoat then please let us know immediately.”
Visit the website www.orkneynativewildlife.org for more information.