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Frequently asked questions

  • 1. How did stoats get to Orkney?

    It is not known how stoats got to Orkney; they could have traveled into the County in cargo or they may have been intentionally released, possibly as an attempt to try to control rabbits. It is also not known exactly how many stoats are in Orkney.

  • 2. Why are you removing stoats?

    Stoats are not native to Orkney and their arrival poses a serious threat to the internationally important populations of native wildlife on the islands. To prevent irreparable damage to Orkney’s natural heritage, stoats must be removed from Orkney and measures put in place to prevent them returning. in the world’s largest stoat eradication. This ambitious six-year project aims to remove stoats from Orkney and ensure measures are in place to prevent re-invasions by working alongside our local communities.

  • 3. How are you removing stoats?

    The stoats are killed humanely using lethal traps. We do not use live traps. The DOC200, and slightly smaller DOC150, traps we use are housed in specially designed trap boxes which ensure the traps operate humanely and minimise the chance of catching other animals. Roughly 80% of these trap boxes contain two traps and the rest a single trap. For more information on eradication operations click here.

  • 4. How can you justify killing stoats?

    We understand that some people never want to see animals killed and we respect that view. However, the risk to Orkney’s native wildlife is severe. If no action was taken, we would have risked huge population declines in iconic native species, including the Orkney vole, short-eared owl and hen harrier, and an irreparable change to Orkney’s natural heritage. Translocating stoats is not possible and would be far crueller to the stoats due to the prolonged time in captivity that would be needed and the stress that would inevitably result. Finding suitable locations for release on the Scottish mainland would be very difficult too and not ensure translocated stoats were safe as trapping is routinely undertaken in many areas. There would also be implications for local stoats already in these areas as well as both the animals they eat. Eradication is the only way to protect Orkney’s internationally important native wildlife and the parts of the economy that depend on it.

  • 5. How do you prevent the traps catching other animals?

    We take all possible measures to ensure as few other animals are killed as possible. The trap boxes are designed, and the traps are set, to prevent other animals from being caught and we use stoat specific lures. Each trap box has small external entrance holes and offset inner entrances that make it harder for larger animals to enter and reach the trap. The traps are set to spring at 100g, meaning lighter animals such as mice, voles and shrews should not spring the trap. On our trap checks, we sometimes find the bait is missing but the trap is still set, indicating that smaller animals are entering the box without triggering the mechanism. The only animal we cannot minimise catching is brown rats. This is because of their similar size and weight to stoats.

  • 6. How will you make sure the eradication will succeed?

    In 2015, before the project started, the feasibility of removing stoats from Orkney and preventing them returning was assessed by a world-leading stoat eradication expert. The review concluded both were feasible and that eradication should be attempted. We then tested trapping methodology in Orkney as part of the development phase of the project by running trapping trials to try out different stoat traps, baits, lures and various monitoring methods. These findings formed the eradication plan which was reviewed by an independent Technical Advisory Group (TAG) as well as the International Eradication Advisory Group. TAG members bring expertise covering stoat ecology, trapping and eradications enabling them to provide specialist advice and support throughout the project. Our trapping team are also experienced with a mixture of gamekeeping and eradication skills, helping them deploy traps in the most effective locations considering features of the landscape that stoats use such as dykes, ditches, fences, streams, field and track sides and stone walls. We regularly review the catch data to adapt the eradication to succeed.

  • 7. How will you ensure that once stoats are removed, they won’t return?

    The Orkney Native Wildlife Project is committed to supporting the long-term biosecurity of the islands. This includes working with communities on islands without stoats to develop biosecurity plans to prevent stoats spreading there while the eradication is taking place and producing a long-term biosecurity plan for Orkney to ensure that stoats do not return once the eradication is complete.

  • 8. How are you using dogs to find stoats?

    Stoats are notoriously difficult to detect particularly when their populations are at low densities. The most efficient way to work out whether stoats are present is to use specially trained conservation detection dogs to systematically search areas responding to sightings we receive. Following the same high standards as dogs that are used to detect drugs and bombs, our dogs have been rigorously trained to identify signs and the scent of stoats and to indicate this to their handlers. They are trained not to try to catch stoats, only to indicate their presence. They are also trained not to react to other animals including livestock. The stoat detection dogs will be used for regular biosecurity checks on high-risk islands (those within three km of the Orkney Mainland) during the eradication as well as for finding the remaining stoats.

  • 9. Couldn’t stoats be helpful if they control numbers of rats and geese?

    There is no evidence that stoats are an effective way to control Orkney’s rat population. Experience from New Zealand shows non-native stoats didn't control the rat or rabbit population there, but theyt are implicated in the extinction of three bird species. A UK study of the diet of stoats found evidence of rat in only two of 570 stoat stomachs. And the number of stoats caught in our traps suggests Orkney’s rat population has not been affected by the introduction of stoats.

    Although stoats may eat the eggs of greylag geese, they are highly unlikely to have any significant effect on greylag goose numbers as their eggs are only available as a food source for a short time each year and parent geese will defend their nests. Stoats will choose easier prey such as Orkney voles and will have a devastating effect on Orkney’s native wildlife if not removed.

  • 10. How has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted the project?

    The Covid-19 pandemic and resulting lockdown restrictions meant that we had to pause all trapping operations for nearly three months from 23 March 2020 as this was not deemed essential work. During this time, we were unable to check and deploy traps. For over a year the project couldn’t take part in school visits, community events and biosecurity planning and the arrival of our conservation dogs from England was delayed. The timing of the lockdown coincided with the breeding season for stoats, so we missed catching family groups before young became independent and dispersed which undid progress that had been made by allowing numbers to bounce back. When we resumed operations in June 2020, we had to adapt how we worked including trappers not sharing vehicles which has made trap checking slower than before.

  • 11. Where did you get funding from?

    In October 2018, the project secured £3.5 million of funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and £2.6 million from EU LIFE. These grants make up 88% of the funding with the rest coming from in kind and financial contributions from partners.

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    NHLF

    £3,488,000.00

    EU LIFE

    £2,636,597.00

    SNH

    £526,000.00

    RSPB

    £249,716.43

    Following the setback and delay caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the project was extended by a further year. The National Lottery Heritage Fund has provided 75% of the extra funding needed from an emergency grant.

  • 12. What is the money being spent on?

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  • 13. Will the result justify the expense?

    A 2015 report concluded that stoats would have a long-term dramatic negative impact on Orkney’s native wildlife justifying the project mission.

    Orkney is naturally free of mammalian predators and the threat non-native stoats pose Orkney’s native wildlife is phenomenal. Orkney’s native wildlife also helps attract hundreds of thousands of visitors to the islands each year helping support a £70 million pound tourism economy. Removing stoats from Orkney will protect these internationally important native wildlife populations, protect local poultry businesses, protect the cultural and natural heritage of the islands and protect the local economy.

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