An ambitious partnership project which will work towards safeguarding internationally important Orkney wildlife has received support from the National Lottery and the EU’s LIFE programme. RSPB Scotland’s Kirsty Nutt shares the great news and the importance of the project.


Ground-breaking project for Orkney wildlife gets green light
                                                                            

We have some wonderful news!

The Orkney Native Wildlife Project has been given the go ahead after receiving support from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and EU-LIFE.

This ambitious five-year project, which is a partnership between RSPB Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), and Orkney Islands Council, is set to be the largest project of its kind in the world.

Our aim is simple: to work with local communities and landowners to safeguard the unique, world-renowned, and internationally important native wildlife of Orkney now and into the future by addressing the threat it faces from an invasive non-native predator: the stoat.

We know that securing funding is just the beginning of the journey to safeguarding the future of Orkney’s native wildlife, but let’s go back a few steps so those of you that haven’t heard about the project before can get a feel for why it is so important.

Orkney is famous for its landscape, its history, its culture, and its wildlife. All these things intertwine to make Orkney a very special place to live and to visit.

 

Pictish Stone

Orkney’s 70 islands are home to almost a fifth of the UK’s breeding hen harriers, and one of the few places in the UK in which waders such as curlews are still a common breeding species. The archipelago’s rugged cliffs are home to nationally and internationally important numbers of seabirds.

 

Marwick Head

Like many islands, Orkney is naturally free of most ground predators. Until recently, Orkney was also free of stoats. Stoats are native to the UK mainland but their reported appearance in Orkney in 2010 was a devastating discovery.

Their presence threatens the Orkney vole, which is found nowhere else, the hen harriers and short-eared owls that rely on voles for food, and ground-nesting birds including red-throated divers, waders and seabirds, many of which support Orkney’s thriving wildlife tourism industry.

 

Curlews at Brodgar. Photo Credit: Alan Leitch

To prevent stoats having long-term negative impacts on Orkney’s native wildlife and potentially drastically changing the very character of the islands, the Orkney Native Wildlife Project is working together with locals to undertake the largest stoat eradication project in the world to date.

Along with eradicating stoats from Orkney, which will involve recruiting a team of specially-skilled trappers and training the UK’s first team of stoat detection dogs, the project team will work alongside local communities, tourism groups, and in local schools to raise awareness about Orkney’s native wildlife and the threats invasive non-native species pose. Throughout the project and beyond, there will also be activities to help Orcadians get involved in helping native wildlife thrive.

One eager pupil at a local school has already suggested the slogan “Throw the stoats off the boats” for our campaign to raise awareness about Biosecurity and the risks of introducing non-native species accidentally, which is something we probably all need to think about more than we do.

Short-eared owl in flight at Durkadale. Credit Ian Francis

There is a lot of work we now need to do over the coming weeks and months. We need to start recruiting project staff and finding them an office. We also need to secure the remaining land access permissions and start to order the thousands of traps we need. This will mean a lot of work for the suppliers of both the traps and the housings because the operational plan calls for 10,000 lethal, humane traps to be distributed across Mainland Orkney and the connected isles along with a network of ‘biosecurity traps’ around the coastlines of other islands to prevent stoats spreading during the project.

To keep up to date with news, visit the Facebook page and if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch by emailing orkney@rspb.org.uk or north@nature.scot (until we have a project office and new email address).

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