Stoats threaten rare birds in Orkney

A report from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH)  has outlined some improved measures for Orkney to use in tackling its current stoat invasion.

The stoat is a non-native mammal on the Orkney Islands and is threatening local species such voles, which then impacts hen harriers and short eared owls. Whilst the loss of biodiversity itself is troubling the islands are also likely to lose out on tourism as iconic species decline and this is as strong driver of the new policy.

The population has been gradually increasing over the past few years, rising from 290 in 2014 to 470 in 2015. One stoat was removed from the island only to be rediscovered there several years later, it is not certain how it returned. This suggests that removal is only part of the problem as stoats are often been brought to the islands in hay and straw. 2015 was an exceptionally poor year for straw production and several tonnes more is being taken to the islands in the coming weeks which may bring more stoats.

young stoat in summer coat

Graham Neville, Northern Isles operations manager, said: “We are committed to tackling the issue of stoats in Orkney and are setting up a full-scale eradication project with a view to bid for external funding. Our priority is the control of the population and distribution of stoats in Orkney. Everyone can be assured that animal welfare is our top priority and is central to the project. Any animal caught will be handled and dispatched in a humane and legal manner.”

The aim for Orkney is to entirely remove the stoats from the islands. This is quite difficult as stoats can breed very quickly and are tricky to capture. The plan is to train 50 local people in the art of trapping, possible more if the initiative proves successful. The scheme has been given £500,000 by SNH but will require external funding to be successful. The cost is high, working out at over £1000 per stoat, despite it being run by volunteers. However a similar project in the Western Isles to remove 2000 mink cost over £6,000,000 and took 13 years to complete so in reality the Orkney project could cost several million pounds to complete.

There is a growing fear that the stoats may spread to nearby islands and so the authorities are calling for locals to be extremely vigilant and to report any stoat sightings.

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