Eradicating the stoats from Orkney

Project to eradicate the stoat from Orkney and the islands surrounding it has failed according to critics
Project to eradicate the stoat from Orkney and the islands surrounding the mainland has failed according to critics. Image: MikeB

The Times reports on the alleged failure of a scheme to eradicate stoats from Orkney. The problem is this: when you eradicate an invasive species from a selected area you have to do it quickly enough to outstrip the procreation of the animal. This is common sense. It means, however, that you need to put sufficient funds into the project to do it quickly. And this has allegedly not happened in the case of eradication of stoats from Orkney.

It’s was described as a pioneering scheme but it’s a flop according to The Times report.

We don’t know quite how stoats arrived at Orkney but it happened about 13 years ago. They quickly became a problem to the island because they eat the islands’ native voles. This led to a reduction in prey animals for raptors on the islands including hen harriers. Stoats also prey on ground nesting birds such as Arctic terns and curlews. This invasive species is considered to be “a serious threat to the islands’ native wildlife and economy”.

Initially, £8 million was put into the project by the Orkney Native Wildlife Project which was launched in 2019. The objective: to trap and kill stoats.

However, three months ago the team engaged in doing this said that they needed a further £8 million to finish their work.

This led to criticism from various sources because they argue that the management of the project had failed to consider key aspects. They didn’t listen to expert advice before the project started. One concern was that there were not enough trappers and therefore they couldn’t work fast enough.

Another concern was that stoats were not been culled on neighbouring islands such as Hoy and Rousay. The focus was on Orkney mainland and islands connected to it by roads.

But these other areas could lead to a repopulation of stoats on Orkney mainland.

Stoats can swim for 2 miles. They have a litter of 12. They are resourceful.

A person involved in the scheme said: “Their intention is to carry on with the same ineffectual methods that they have been using since the outset, which prolongs the risk to wildlife and pets, and prolongs the suffering of animals with no hope of conservation benefit.”

A report was compiled by experts before the project started. The Times reports that 70% of the report has been followed but the report isn’t available for the public to see. It’s not been published apparently.

In response, the Orkney Native Wildlife Project said that the scale of the project was going to present problems. They said that this invasive species had not spread beyond Orkney mainland and the islands connected by road to the many other islands in the archipelago.

The project’s manager, Lianne Sinclair said: “All the evidence is that the methodology is working and can work to ensure we remove every last stoat”.

Update from The Times in a letter to the editor entitled “Eradication of stoats on Orkney”.

The letter writer, Andrew Gilruth, the CEO of the Moreland Association says that, “It took 24 professional trappers over nine years to eradicate 34,000 non-native coypu from East Anglia in the 1980s. By contrast, environmental organisations and statutory bodies with a public grant many times bigger have removed only 5600 stoats on Orkney since 2019 with no end in sight. The key difference appears to be that the coypu project knew it would after 10 years, whatever the result, and that if the trappers were successful, they would get a bonus of up to 3 times their annual salary, declining as the 10-year deadline loomed. Perhaps it is time for the Public Accounts Committee to ensure taxpayers are getting value for money from conservation projects.”

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Post Category: Invasive species