Is­landers back cull of stoats to save wildlife

Scottish Daily Mail - - Comment - By Mike Mer­ritt

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

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