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To protect Orkney’s native wildlife and economy, it is essential to stop stoats spreading now and prevent them returning in the future.

When an invasive non-native species arrives in an area for the first time, it is known as an introduction or incursion. Biosecurity describes all the measures put in place to prevent this happening. The project has two essential biosecurity tasks:

  • Once the eradication is complete and Orkney is again stoat-free, long-term biosecurity is needed to prevent invasive species arriving.
  • In the short-term, biosecurity is essential to prevent stoats spreading to other islands putting more native wildlife at risk and making the challenge to eradicate greater.
Pathways for arrival and spread

It is unknown whether stoats were accidentally or deliberately introduced to Orkney, so all possible pathways must be addressed.

Stoats could stowaway in lorries and ferries transporting goods into and around Orkney. Stoats are also strong swimmers, capable of travelling more than 3.5km in open seas which puts several other islands within swimming distance of their current range of the Mainland and linked isles.

The team

The biosecurity team, including Europe's first stoat detection dogs and their handlers, is responsible for trying to prevent stoats spreading from the Mainland and linked isles to other islands during the eradication and for ensuring there are robust measures in place to prevent stoats returning once the eradication is complete.

The team is working in partnership with port authorities, ferry operators, hauliers and local businesses to ensure measures to minimise accidental introductions are practical, sustainable and can continue beyond the lifetime of the project. The team is also working alongside local communities to develop specific biosecurity plans for each island.

Biosecurity tools

  • Biosecurity trapping

    The first rule of biosecurity is that prevention is better than cure. As stoats are strong swimmers, the closer islands of Hoy, Shapinsay, Rousay, Flotta, Wyre, Egilsay, Eynhallow and Graemsay are within reach of stoats on the Mainland.

    To try to prevent stoats spreading, the project has established lines of traps along coastlines that could be used as access points for stoats to cross between the Mainland and these high-risk islands.

    Coastal biosecurity traps on high-risk islands
  • Sightings

    To stop stoats spreading, it is essential to detect a stoat incursion as quickly as possible. Local residents reporting any possible stoat sightings as soon as possible is one of the most important tools for protecting our islands.

    Report a sighting

  • Ink cards and cameras

    To assist with detecting incursions, the project has networks of monitoring tunnels across selected high-risk islands. These use an inked card to collect mammal footprints and the team then check to see if any are stoats. There are also motion-activated trail cameras in key locations.

    Ink card with mouse footprints
  • Detection dogs

    The project is employing Europe's first team of stoat detection dogs, specifically trained to indicate to their handlers when they detect the sign or scent of a stoat. These dogs will regularly search stoat-free islands to check for signs of stoat incursion and will carry out checks at ports and harbours to prevent stoats returning to Orkney in the future. (They will also support the trapping team towards the end of the eradication (mop-up phase) to identify where the final stoats are).

    The first three dogs joined the team in April 2021 and were matched with a handler during an intense training programme. The dogs are:

    • Spud – a labrador retriever who loves a ball on a rope as his reward

    • Thorn – an English springer spaniel who also loves a tennis ball best

    • Scout – a sprocker spaniel who loves playing with a tennis ball when not working

    Three further dogs will join the team later in 2021.

    Spud, Thorn and Scout and their handlers
  • Incursion response

    A key part of each island biosecurity plan is to be ready to act quickly if a potential stoat sighting is reported or detected by the monitoring tunnels, cameras or dogs – this is called an incursion response.

    Every potential stoat sighting is taken seriously and quickly investigated. The team use a standard questionnaire to follow up potential sightings ideally with the person who saw the animal and may visit the area. Following this, they can use detection dog searches, cameras and monitoring tunnels to try to confirm the report and deploy traps to try to remove any stoats.

    Quick reporting of potential stoat sightings is essential to enable a rapid incursion response to be launched.

How you can help

Please get in touch if you are interested in volunteering and report any potential sightings as soon as possible especially if on one of the high-risk islands.

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