Welcome to the latest news and updates from the Orkney Native Wildlife Project. New to our blog and want to find out more about the project, how to volunteer with us, or have a question? Then please visit our Facebook page, our website, or email stoatsightings@rspb.org.uk

Join the team

We do need lots of different skills to drive the world’s largest stoat eradication, from experienced field workers to inspirational managers. We are currently looking for someone to take on the role of Project Implementation Manager leading our growing team of diverse skills. You can find more details about the role and how to apply online. The closing date is 9 April 2021.

Network completed

With the support of nearly 770 landowners and our partners, the trapping network for the initial phase of the eradication is now fully in place. Together we are helping to protect native wildlife as well as the Orkney community, tourist industry, and economy. Protecting our native species is vital for our economy, and even more so now as we recover from the effects of a year dominated by the pandemic. In ‘normal’ times nearly half of visitors to Orkney spent time watching wildlife which contributed to Orkney’s £70 million tourism industry. Any decline in the richness of our native wildlife has a real effect on Orkney’s tourism. Never has Orkney’s nature been more important in supporting the health and wellbeing of those who live on the islands than now – and it’s vital to protect it now, and for future generations.

Our trap network currently covers just over 76% of Orkney Mainland and the linked isles, broken down to 78% coverage in East Mainland, 73% coverage in South Ronaldsay, Burray and the linked holms, and nearly 76% coverage in West Mainland. This is enough land access for the network of around 10,000 individual traps to significantly reduce the stoat population in this phase one of the eradication. You can see how we get on by subscribing to this blog to stay up to date with our progress.

Trapping statistics update

Although a little later than promised in our November blog we would like to update you on our trapping progress. Our trapping statistics show the stoat catch is increasing every month. This is a massive achievement in the face of the impacts of the harshest winter in Orkney for a decade and the additional national lockdowns. Most of our deployment of boxes into the field was finished towards the end of 2020. A few extra bits of land access were also granted to the project towards the end of the year. Traps were deployed in these new areas during January and February, as shown in the table below showing the progress from November until the end of February. 

 Per Month

November 2020

December 2020

January 2021

February 2021

Project total so far

New trap boxes deployed in the field *

 

306

 

97

 

37

 

17

 

5,652

Individual trap checks done*

 

4,056

 

3,812

 

6,847

 

7,380

 

60,986

Stoats caught**

93

59

116

135

1,083

*many trap boxes contain two traps

**the stoats are killed using a type of lethal, humane trap – the DOC 200 – which is approved by the Spring Trap Approval Order for Scotland and the UK and meets the welfare standards defined by the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards (AIHTS)

We have also been making every possible adjustment to the trap boxes to make sure as few other animals are caught while still ensuring the stoat eradication is also successful. Since November the wooden trap safety boxes that house the DOC200 traps have had their small entrance holes (60x60mm) reduced even more - to around 60x40 mm by adding additional wire mesh and wire ties to reduce the size of the external entrance. This has been rolled out in high-priority areas near houses. Before adding wire ties to all trap boxes in the network, we must make sure that the largest stoats can still be caught otherwise the success of the eradication is at risk. To do this we have needed to collect substantial measurement data from stoats caught in wired and non-wired trap boxes to have enough data to analyse the impact of these modifications on the eradication. We hope to know whether it is possible to start reducing the entrance hole size on the remaining boxes very soon (as shown in the photo with half a cream cracker for scale).

The internal baffles already in place and these modifications to the entrance make it even harder for other animals to enter the trap zone in the wooden boxes. The bait used has also been tested to specifically attract stoats and the traps are calibrated to the weight of the lightest free-ranging young stoat. This is so animals weighing lighter than around 90g shouldn’t spring the traps – although we have recorded traps sprung where two mice have run across at the same time. The only non-target animals that we cannot minimise catching are brown rats as they are a similar size and weight to stoats and are attracted to the same bait.

Despite our extensive efforts to prevent catching other animals in the boxes, we are saddened that a small number have unfortunately been caught since we last reported our statistics. This is disappointing for everyone and we continue to do what we can to minimise the catch of animals other than our target of stoats.

From November 2020 through to the end of February 2021 there were over 22,000 trap checks and the following animals were allso caught: 1,446 rats, 43 mice, 5 rabbits, 4 hedgehogs, 3 small feral cats, and 5 unidentifiable animals. We are particularly sad that three more small feral cats have died since November 2020. These were found in trap boxes where the entrance had not yet been modified by wire-ties.

In all incidents where the small cats were caught, we immediately checked-in with the homes nearest to the trap to find any potential owners. With their help, we are confident that these cats without collars were feral, especially as a scan of each showed no owner microchips. We also let the Scottish Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA) know about each incident.

We want to reassure people that these incidents remain incredibly rare in the context of the trap boxes around Orkney and trap checks. Once we know that the wire ties are not preventing large stoats from being caught, we hope to be able to extend the use of wire-ties to the remaining trap boxes in the network so the chance of catching other animals will reduce even more. In the meantime, if you have any concerns at all, please do not hesitate to contact us on the details above to talk through the questions you may have.

Celebrating the equinox!

We hope you are enjoying the days lengthen as the spring equinox is upon us bringing on the light. We also hope to welcome the stoat detection dogs in the next few months once the lockdown restrictions on movement ease. We hope to unite dogs with their handlers on the team by the end of next month. Stay tuned for more news on this! Spud is one that is due to arrive and keen to get on with the job. 

Anonymous