Our regular blog shares the latest news and updates from the Orkney Native Wildlife Project.

If you are new to our blog and want to know more about the project please visit our website www.onwp.org


Trapping operations continue

With all members of our trapping team having returned to work following the period of lockdown, we are focusing on a big push to get all eradication traps deployed across the Mainland and linked isles by the end of the year.  In the three months since returning to work, in addition to checking over 600 traps each week, the team has deployed over 2,000 traps across West Mainland.

To ensure the stoats become comfortable with the trap boxes and speed up deployment time, the traps are deployed closed.  Once all the traps are in position, we will open them all as quickly as possible to achieve an effective trapping network throughout the cold winter months.  With less food naturally available over winter, having the eradication network complete and open by then should give us the best chance of catching stoats with the baited traps.


Views from around West Mainland

A happy Kinlay, one of our new trappers, after a successful day of trapping

We are really grateful that people have continued to contact us with reports of stoats via the stoat sightings email and Facebook page – a big Thank You to everyone who has sent information in!  This summer appears to have been quite a bumper stoat breeding season, and this, coupled with the extended period of non-trapping due to the Covid-19 restrictions, makes the completion of the trapping network all the more urgent.

There are still some areas of land we require access to in order to get the trap cover needed to set the most effective network, and we will be contacting the remaining landowners in a final drive to obtain permission to access these areas. As always we encourage anyone with any questions about the project or any concerns about traps to please email us at stoatsightings@rspb.org.uk . Our thanks go out to the 700 or so landowners who have already given permission for us to access their land for trapping and monitoring, your support is very much appreciated.

Island Biosecurity network returning to full swing

We have an active, open biosecurity trap network along high risk mainland coastal areas such as Stromness and Evie. This was expanded once work was resumed in June, to compensate for not being able to travel to the islands until recently.  In addition to this, we have a network of biosecurity traps across the islands that are close enough to the mainland that stoats could reach them by swimming. These are: Hoy, Rousay, Shapinsay, Flotta, Graemsay and Wyre. 

After the gap in checking due to the Covid-19 restrictions, our biosecurity officer Chris has now managed to get back to most of these islands to carry out maintenance on the traps and re-bait them. He has been joined by the three members of the dog handling team, who are helping with this work until the first four stoat detection dogs arrive in October. Chris passes on his thanks to the island communities for their continued support in protecting the biosecurity of the islands, particularly at this time, and is happy to report that no stoats have been found on the islands.  With the lifting of restrictions, this network will now be checked monthly. If you have any questions concerning biosecurity you can contact Chris at chris.bell@rspb.org.uk.

View across to Rousay from Evie

Lindsey is one of the dog handlers who has been working with Chris recently. She has been really enjoying checking and re-calibrating the biosecurity traps, as well as the chance to visit the islands.  In all her time in Orkney Lindsey has visited most of the islands, however in the last few weeks she has been able to tick off two new ones – Graemsay and Wyre! She has also been enjoying spotting wildlife on her travels.

Lindsey enjoying the view across to Hoy from Graemsay!

Island wildlife - green shore crab and common blue butterfly

View of Wyre

Lindsey has also been busy preparing for the arrival of the stoat detection dogs and has shared some pictures of the new kennel being put in place.  Once the dogs arrive in October they will begin ground training with their handlers, and are expected to be operating on the islands from November.

Preparations underway for the arrival of the stoat detection dogs

The dogs will be a crucial part of the project team.  They will carry out regular biosecurity checks on high-risk islands during the eradication period to make sure stoats have not spread and will also help to find the remaining stoats towards the end of the eradication.

Because stoats are notoriously difficult to detect particularly at low densities, specially trained dogs are the only way to be certain that stoats are not present.  Stoat detection dogs are rigorously trained to the same high standards as drug detection dogs, and will be able to identify the signs and scent of stoats and indicate this to their handlers.  We are eagerly awaiting their arrival!


Volunteering activities to re-start

Our volunteer trapping and monitoring activities had to be put on hold over the summer period due to Covid-19 restrictions.  As more work is now possible, we are looking forward to working with our team of volunteers once again.  Of course, as with all aspects of the project, all volunteering work will be carried out in accordance with all Scottish Government Covid-19 regulations and our own safety guidelines.   

Orkney vole – one of the species we will be monitoring

If you would like to be involved with the project as a volunteer, we would love to hear from you.  We have established trapping and monitoring volunteer programmes and we are also open to any suggestions for further involvement.  Please contact the project at stoatsightings@rspb.org.uk if you would like more information on volunteering with us.


Have you seen a stoat?

Please continue to send us your stoat sightings, this is a very important support to the project and extremely useful for us to get an idea of stoat activity around Orkney and help with our planning.  You can post the details and any pictures you are able to get on the Stoats in Orkney Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/groups/1541957316039219 or email us at stoatsightings@rspb.org.uk.

Please include the date and time of the sighting in your post, along with a grid reference or description of the location.  Any additional details regarding observed behaviour, if the stoat is carrying prey, if it has kits (young), or anything else you observe is also really useful information.

Once again, a huge Thank You! to communities and individuals across Orkney for your continued support of the project and your commitment to protecting the precious native wildlife of Orkney.