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Red and Sky Join The Team

New tracker dog Red.

Red and Sky, two new tracker dogs, have been added to the stoat detection dog team in Orkney. The dog team now number 6 to help in the eradication of stoats from Orkney. The multi million pound project is one of the largest of its kind in the world.

“The project is a partnership between RSPB Scotland, NatureScot and Orkney Islands Council with generous support from The National Lottery Heritage Fund and the EU’s LIFE programme.”

Orkney Native Wildlife Project

Spud, joined the project in May 2021 as a stoat detection dog, has also recently returned to Orkney after being retrained as a tracker dog with canine training specialists, Kryus Ltd.

The new arrivals, Red and Sky, will spend their first month getting used to the Orkney environment, and bonding with their handlers before working in the field. The squad will work on a mix of island biosecurity to check for signs of stoats on high-risk islands close to the Orkney Mainland in addition to supporting the project’s eradication operations.

left to right : Stuart Roberts, trapper and dog handler; Chris Bell, ONWP biosecurity officer, Lindsey Taylor, dog handler, Roddy Legge, dog handler. From left to right the dogs are Red, Scout, Riggs, Spud and Sky. Absent from the picture tracker dog Thom and his handler

Chris Bell, ONWP Biosecurity Officer added:

“A dog’s nose has between 220,000 and 300,000 receptor cells compared to only 5,000 in a human nose. As a dog’s brain can process those smells up to 60 times more than humans, our dog teams are an exceptional asset to biosecurity.

“Alongside crucial public sightings and the support from island communities, the dog teams give us the strongest possible early warning system to any signs of stoats on the high-risk islands. The dog teams also demonstrate absence of stoats more efficiently and effectively than human searches alone.”

These working dogs are trained to not hunt or attack stoats and will always be controlled by their ONWP dog handlers, now increased to a team of four from the original three.

L to R Stuart Roberts, Lindsay Taylor, Frank Holmes with Spud

Spud’s career with the project began in May 2021 alongside first arrivals Scout and Thorn. These were the first stoat detection dogs in Europe. Scout and Thorn, along with new arrival Sky, will continue to search out signs of stoats in the landscape.

Instead of being directed to find signs of stoats, the tracker dogs Red and Spud are trained to lead their handler to the
home territory or den of a stoat. The trapping team will then use the information provided by the dog team to know where best to lay traps in the stoat’s territory to bolster the trap network of over 6,000 traps.

The dogs were integral to the trials of the eradication mop-up methods tested in Deerness during the spring and summer this year. Within 24 hours of receiving the public report of a stoat sighting, the dog teams would work the area alongside the trapping team to seek out signs of stoats so the trapping specialists would adapt the network for a successful catch.

© Copyright Peter Trimming and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Lianne Sinclair, ONWP Project Implementation Manager said:

“It is very exciting embarking on this new chapter with our dog team. The tracker dogs work in a completely different way to detection dogs, which means additional training and skill development for their human handlers.

“The most obvious difference is that the detection dogs are directed by their handler, whereas the tracker dogs lead their handler following the scent and the track. It is incredible to see the precision at work in the field as the handlers use their skills and techniques to interpret the different signs from a tracker or a detection dog – which is truly impressive.”

Stoat traps in Orkney Image Credit Bell

For more information and to report a stoat visit the website: www.orkneynativewildlife.org.uk

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