The Orkney Islands is an archipelago of about 70 islands with 20 inhabited. Lying 16km off Scotland's north coast they cover almost 1,000 sq.km. More than half is Mainland, home to most of the 22,000 residents.
Orkney is world famous for its stunning Neolithic monuments; the Standing Stones of Stenness, The Ring of Brodgar, the village of Skara Brae and Maeshowe, a chambered tomb. Orkney is also important for wildlife with significant populations of seabirds, rare hen harriers, nesting waders and the endemic Orkney vole that sustains Short-eared owls, Orkney's only nesting owl.
In 2010, stoats colonised the Orkney Islands. Although native in Britain, they are invasive on the islands and left unchecked they will have serious ecological impacts. An ambitious trapping programme to eradicate them is now underway.
Easier said than done, the task is to eradicate stoats using an intensive landscape scale trapping programme.
The project is using lessons learned from trapping American mink on the Scottish Hebrides. The scale is huge with in excess of 10,000 traps being deployed and monitored by trained trappers.
Since 2010, a record has been kept of all reported stoat sightings. By comparing this with records of stoat captures will help to identify stoat "hotspots" and gauge the success of trapping to reduce the density and distribution of this invasive predator.
The key gain of the project will be the avoidance of losses.
The agricultural landscape with its stone walls is very suitable for stoats. Their speed of spread and increase in abundance suggests there is little to limit their population. Preventing their colonisation of nearby large islands, such as Hoy will be a significant achievement.
Left unchecked, stoats will prey on ground nesting birds and the Orkney vole that is prey for short-eared owls and rare hen harriers. Protecting these species will help maintain the Orkney Islands biodiversity and status as an ecologically significant wildlife habitat.