Islanders back cull of stoats to save wildlife
THEY are skilled hunters capable of wiping out populations of other wildlife.
Now a plan for the largest cull of stoats in the world has been drawn up to eradicate them on Orkney – a scheme supported by more than 700 landowners.
Thousands of the creatures have spread across the islands, but no one is sure how the non-native stoats got there in the first place.
Since appearing on the islands in 2010 they have been preying on ground nesting birds and native species such as the Orkney vole.
A £6million project to get rid of the creatures has won widespread support and the first batch of 7,000 traps to be used in the Orkney Native Wildlife Project (ONWP) scheme have already been laid.
ONWP project manager Sarah Sankey said: ‘We’re really moved by the support shown by landowners who have signed up so far to help protect Orkney’s natural heritage.
‘Both the natural heritage and economy of Orkney will be severely impoverished if the stoat is left to breed unchecked on Orkney.
‘Our funders, National Lottery Heritage Fund and EU Life, have given us this one opportunity to save our wildlife.
‘Whilst progress is good and the wide-ranging nature of stoats means we do not need to have access to all land, we do still have some way to go to secure enough land to eradicate all stoats.’ The aim is to lay all traps before the next stoat breeding season in spring.
Traps are laid around every 250 metres (273 yards) – laced with bait such as egg or rabbit – and checked regularly by the project staff.
RSPB Scotland intends to eradicate all the stoats on Orkney in order to conserve native wildlife.
The five-year ONWP has caused controversy within the charity’s membership – with a section opposed to the killing of animals.
But it has the overwhelming support of islanders. The project mirrors similar schemes involving nonnative species on other Scottish islands, including mink, rats, rabbits, and hedgehogs – which together have cost more than £8million.
Stoats are very accomplished predators and feed on birds, eggs and small mammals.
The presence of stoats in Orkney threatens the native vole, which is found nowhere else in the world, and a host of birds including hen harriers and red-throated divers – many of which support the thriving wildlife tourism industry.
‘One opportunity to save our wildlife’
Target: Stoats face eradication