Helping Orkney’s Native Wildlife Thrive

The Orkney Islands, just off the north east coast of Scotland, are home to priceless natural heritage and it’s this unique environment that the Orkney Native Wildlife Project protects.

Orkney vole ©Alastair Skene

Orkney vole ©Alastair Skene

Although the combined land area of the 70 islands is less than 1% of the UK, Orkney hosts more than 20% of the UK’s breeding hen harriers and 8% of breeding curlews, bucking the trend of their decline over much of the mainland.

Orkney is naturally free of mammalian predators, and all bird species, including raptors, are ground-nesting in the largely treeless landscape. Invasive species are one of the greatest threats to the beauty and variety of our nature and Orkney’s conditions have provided a feast for the non-native invasive Stoats (Mustela erminea). These predators are native to Scotland but not Orkney, but were detected on Orkney Mainland in 2010.

Hen harrier landing in Orkney ©Christine Hall

Hen harrier landing in Orkney ©Christine Hall

By 2013 stoats had spread across the Orkney Mainland and connected isles. Early attempts were made to control the increasing population, but the population growth and increasing threat to native wildlife saw Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds partner in 2016 to develop a more ambitious programme to eradicate stoats from Orkney. Since 2016 Orkney Islands Council joined as an active partner evidencing the recognition in the community that action was needed to manage the spreading stoat population and to safeguard Orkney’s native wildlife on which the future of the county’s wildlife tourism business depends.

Short-eared owl at Durkadale ©Ian Francis

Short-eared owl at Durkadale ©Ian Francis

Following two years of dedicated consultation and planning, the necessary funding of £7 million over five years was acquired in October 2018. As a testament to the global importance of Orcadian wildlife EU LIFE Natura 2000 and the National Lottery Heritage Fund are generously supporting the project which has enabled the practical planning to begin. As a result, the recruitment of a 26-strong team based in Kirkwall is complete and we’re in the process of acquiring the critical land access agreement ahead of the planned roll out of around 10,000 lethal, humane trap boxes in the autumn.

Hen harrier nest ©Ian Francis

Hen harrier nest ©Ian Francis

As well as current eradication planning, biosecurity methods are already in place to monitor the neighbouring islands to ensure agile response to any recorded incursion with our partnership colleagues at SNH. As this is the world’s largest stoat eradication attempted, the team are mindful the world will be watching every aspect of its work – whether community engagement, citizen science and the eradication itself.

Keep up to date with the project on our Facebook page.

Find out more about the project here.

Curlews at Brodgar ©Alan Leitch

Curlews at Brodgar ©Alan Leitch

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