Kirsty Nutt explains why the Orkney Native Wildlfie Project is so important, why it is needed and how you can help.

Orkney is famous for its landscape, its history, its culture and its wildlife.

Despite the combined land area of Orkney’s 70 islands accounting for less than 1% of the UK, these islands are home to more than a fifth of the UK’s breeding hen harriers, internationally important numbers of seabirds and are one of the few places in the UK in which waders such as curlews are still a common breeding species.

   Curlew calling by Christine Hall

The landscape is alive with the calls of curlews, oystercatchers, redshanks and lapwings and the archipelago’s rugged cliffs are home to nationally and internationally important numbers of breeding seabirds including more than 15% of the UK’s breeding tysties (black guillemots), nearly 15% of the global population of bonxies (great skuas) and large numbers of globally threatened tammie norries (puffins).

 

   Puffin by Ian Francis

Like many islands, Orkney is naturally free of mammalian predators. Stoats are native to the UK mainland but they are not native to Orkney and their appearance in 2010 was a devastating discovery. Stoats feed on small birds, eggs and small mammals and are accomplished predators. Their presence in Orkney threatens the Orkney vole and birds, including hen harriers, short-eared owls, red-throated divers, waders and seabirds, many of which support Orkney’s thriving wildlife tourism industry.

   Short-eared owl by Ian Francis

The introduction of stoats has had devastating impacts on island wildlife elsewhere in the world including New Zealand where they are implicated in the extinction of the bush wren, laughing owl, and New Zealand’s native thrush.

   Extinct New Zealand bushwren via wikipedia.org

In order to safeguard the unique and internationally important native wildlife of Orkney now and into the future, SNH and RSPB Scotland are working together to deliver the largest stoat eradication project in the world to date. The Orkney Native Wildlife Project has been awarded development funding of £64,600 to help the partnership hone their plans before it applies for a full grant of more than £3 million in 2018 to deliver this project.

During the nine-month development phase the partnership will consult widely with the local community and stakeholders and develop activities that will ensure Orcadians can be involved in helping Orkney’s native wildlife to thrive. The technical aspects of the stoat eradication will be optimised by consulting widely with experts in the field and through trialling different humane methods of trapping stoats in preparation for the delivery phase of the project. The partnership will also determine how to protect the islands from re-invasion which is critical to protecting Orkney’s world-famous wildlife.

Without the Orkney Native Wildlife Project, there is a risk of stoats causing irreparable damage to Orkney’s natural heritage.

 

That’s not all...

Stoats are present across Mainland Orkney and the linked islands, but it is really important that the non-linked islands remain stoat free.

Stoats are strong swimmers and have been recorded swimming several (2-3) kilometres in open seas. The most northerly islands, including Westray, Papay Westray, Eday, Sanday and North Ronaldsay may be sufficiently far away to have an effective water barrier to natural incursion via swimming events, but others are not.

   Map of Orkney's islands

So this week, Strath Caulaidh Ltd will begin the Orkney Mainland Predator Invasion Biosecurity Project which aims to prevent stoats spreading to currently stoat-free islands by trapping in five coastal areas of Mainland Orkney.

This is an essential pre-cursor to the Orkney Native Wildlife Project because if stoats colonise other islands, the cost and complexity of the stoat eradication will increase substantially and the threat to Orkney’s native wildlife will significantly increase.

 

How can you help...

If you are a landowner and are approached to allow trapping on your land, please give consent.

If you are a resident or visitor to Orkney, you can help by reporting any sightings of stoats, whether on the mainland or outer isles, as soon as possible to SNH by calling 01856 886163, by emailing north@snh.gov.uk or through the ‘Stoats in Orkney’ Facebook page.

Information on how to tell if you’ve spotted a stoat, as well as a downloadable stoat ID guide, can be found on the SNH website - http://snhwebsite:8090/land-and-sea/managing-wildlife/orkney-stoats/report-stoat-sighting/

 

    Stoat by Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com)

Anonymous
  • Hi Ian,

    We are absolutely all about protecting wildlife. Stoats are not native to Orkney and are a terrible threat to the native wildlife that makes Orkney so very special such as hen harriers and thousands of breeding waders.

    We did not take this decision lightly, but we have a responsibility to protect Orkney's internationally important bird populations from an introduced threat. I hope this explains why both ourselves and Scottish Natural Heritage are involved in this partnership.

    Best wishes,

    Kirsty

  • I thought the RSPB was to protect wildlife. Why should the RSPB start a cull of Stoats? I'm very very sad that the RSPB are going to start doing this.

    Regards,

    Ian.