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This week is Invasive Species Week organised by the Non-native Species Secretariat. It coordinates the approach to invasive non-native species in Great Britain representing the governments and agencies of England, Scotland and Wales.

Friday's focus looks at the impact that invasive non-native species have on small islands – of which we have great experience here in Orkney. For this issue Rebecca Etheridge, one of our trappers, shares her experience of previous eradications in context with our work and why the invasive non-native stoat poses a serious threat to Orkney’s incredible native wildlife.

Eradications to support native wildlife conservation

According to reports from the United Nations, human activity has altered almost 75% of the Earth’s surface, having a huge impact on the biodiversity that we all depend on for our mental and physical wellbeing. Invasive non-native species are one of the biggest drivers of biodiversity loss and species extinctions across the globe, damaging natural habitats of natural habitats, making them more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, with islands being particularly susceptible. Invasive non-native species eradications are becoming a more common way to manage this problem to ensure our natural environments can survive and adapt to changing climates. 

My first experience of one such project was back in 2014 when I spent a year on the Isles of Scilly, initially to gain experience in practical habitat management with The Wildlife Trust, because through my education I discovered that I quite enjoyed using chainsaws and bombing around in a tractor!

However, once on the island I discovered the Isles of Scilly Seabird Recovery Project, an ambitious project that sought to protect the seabirds of St. Agnes and Gugh.

These birds had been declining over the past few decades due to predation from brown rats, an invasive non-native species to the Isles of Scilly. I saw first-hand the immediate and positive impact that these projects can have on struggling wildlife populations. Just one year after the last sign of rats, came the successful fledging of 10 Manx Shearwaters on the islands, for the first time in living memory! The island has seen an increasing population of those and other seabirds ever since. I was hooked, never had I seen such marked results for wildlife in such a relatively short amount of time.

I have now been involved in four projects that seek to alleviate the pressures from invasive non-native species on native wildlife populations in the UK and abroad to protect a variety of species, from seabirds to rock iguanas and now the iconic Orkney vole – found nowhere else in the world. The eradication of stoats in Orkney is vital for the protection of the Orkney vole and other wildlife, to safeguard the incredible natural heritage of the islands and ensuring our environment’s ability to adapt to changing climate.

 Eradication projects are anything but easy, but the end goal is what keeps you going.

I could go on but that probably paints the picture well enough! When you get to end of the project and see the dramatic increase in populations of the species you have been trying to protect, as I saw on the Isles of Scilly, or hear the first little “cheep-cheep” of a curlew chick in Orkney that reminds you how many more will survive because of the removal of this invasive non-native species, every single hardship becomes worth it.   

All the hard work and pain disappear in the knowledge that the wildlife we have been dedicated to protecting now has a much better chance of overcoming the countless other challenges that it faces in this human-altered planet of ours. I am so excited to see Orkney sharing in these successes.