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?  Visit our Facebook page, our website or contact Sam Ranscombe (Community Engagement Officer) on Samantha.ranscombe@rspb.org.uk.

Over 5,000 traps now deployed!

Great news…..we are now entering the final phase of trap deployment and our trapping team are on course to complete this by December/January!  We have just gone over the 5,000 trap boxes deployment mark and have between 1,000 and 1,500 trap boxes to go to complete the eradication network.  

To give you an idea of the work involved in this, the number of traps the team deploy every week is between 100 and 250 depending on weather and the terrain.  Traps are located at approximately 250 metre intervals on suitable habitat and 25-35 traps form a route for a trapper to check on a three-weekly basis.  Each route takes around five hours to check and we currently have 67 routes in total – so the trapping team are incredibly busy!  

Two trappers looking out over a sloping field and coastline

Trap route planning (Kinlay Francis 2020)

 

Why are traps still closed on West Mainland? 

The traps we are deploying on West Mainland are in place but remain closed for two reasons.  Firstly, this allows time for the boxes to settle in the landscape, lose the human scent and for stoats to get used to them.  Secondly, we want to ensure the traps across West Mainland are opened at the roughly the same time and that we do not have big gaps in the network for stoats to move between.  We have been able to open our network across South Ronaldsay, the linked isles and East Mainland as the natural landscape features and manmade barriers limit movement of stoats and our traps cover nearly 80% of the land area.   As deployment finishes towards the end of this year and we fill in any gaps, we will open the final traps across West Mainland to complete the network. 

 

Stoat hotspots

Our traps on South Ronaldsay and the linked isles have been open since August 2019 and the team check 17 routes here.  East Mainland has over 40 trap routes which have been open since June 2020.  We also have 10 biosecurity trap routes that are open, placed around coastlines such as Stromness and Evie.  These areas have been identified as potential gateways for stoats to spread to other isles either by swimming (they can swim 3km) or by stowing away on boats. 

 Map showing distances between Orkney Mainland and nearby islands - most are less than 2 km 

Swimming distances to the isles

 

So……are there any areas that have been particularly stoaty?  Yes! We have caught more stoats in East Mainland (281) than we have in South Ronaldsay and the linked isles (112) in half the amount of time. Check out these maps showing the density of stoats caught in these areas - the larger the pink circle, the more stoats have been caught there. Mull head is a hotspot!  The total number of stoats we have caught over the open trap network to date is 591 stoats.

Map showing stoats caught in East Mainland including a high density at Mull Head

East Mainland stoats caught

 Map showing stoats caught in South Ronaldsay and the linked isles - many are coastal

South Ronaldsay and the linked isles stoats caught

 

Hoy and Rousay possible stoat sightings

Things got busy in September with two separate reports from members of the public of possible stoats seen in Hoy and Rousay!  There are no confirmed reports of stoats on any of Orkney’s outer isles, but we take every call very seriously.  Our team put out extra traps, cameras and monitoring tunnels in the area of each reported sighting and will closely monitor them over the next few months.  No stoats have been caught or further signs picked up so far. We are incredibly grateful to eagle-eyed members of the community for their support in this way, it is an incredible asset to have so many Orcadians on the lookout!  If you see a stoat anywhere across the Orkney isles please post your sighting on the Stoats in Orkney Facebook page or email stoatsightings@rspb.org.uk  as this really helps us adapt our network and identify hotspot areas to focus on.

  View of Hoy from Stromness on sunny day

 Hoy from Stromness (Sam Ranscombe 2020)

 

Future stoat detection

Eventually, the Project’s detection dogs will be the vanguard of our stoat detection effort, and to keep the dogs sharp we are building up a good store of stoat poo (scat) to use to reinforce their training. 

  Stoat scat nestled in sphagnum moss

Stoat scat (Russell Baker 2020)

 

The open spaces of Orkney provide us with a fairly good supply of stoat scat. But to supplement our stock, the British Wildlife Centre in Surrey has kindly lent us the services of their four captive stoats: Salvador, Sylvester, Susie and Shakira.  The most ‘productive’ stoat has been Salvador, and we’re very grateful to him and his friends for lending a hand in preserving the native wildlife of Orkney. If you want to know more about the work of the British Wildlife Centre click here and if you want to know more about stoat scat then check out our previous blog!

  Upright stoat leaning/behind small tree trunk

Salvador at the British Wildlife Centre (Matt Binstead 2020)

 

Welcome Holly – new Education Officer

 Holly getting up close to a cow 

Holly (Holly Peek 2020)

                                                           

Holly Peek has recently joined the project as Education Officer, continuing the great work already done by Lindsey who moved across to our dog handling team.  Before coming to Orkney, Holly was based in North Wales working with Red Squirrels United – a project aiming to secure the future of red squirrels in the UK.  Holly is passionate about wildlife, particularly the marine world, so you may find her wild swimming or exploring the coastline in search of fins. Since moving to Orkney, Holly has seen more hen harriers, curlews, lapwings and twite than she has in her whole life, reinforcing to her how special Orkney’s wildlife is. If you are interested in having an educational session for your school or class, do get in touch with Holly by emailing holly.peek@rspb.org.uk  

 

Want to work with us?

We are looking for an experienced trapper with excellent organisation and communication skills to join our existing team and help deliver the stoat eradication operation for the project.  The post is for 3 years full-time and the closing date for applications is 26 October 2020, with interviews on 11 November 2020.   You must enjoy being outdoors in all weather, be physically able to walk considerable distances, be able to carry heavy loads and have a full driver’s licence.  To find out more details and to download the application form click here.

  Project truck with trapper writing in notebook

Trapper (Kinlay Francis 2020)

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