Three dogs specially trained to detect stoats have arrived on Orkney, as part of efforts to eradicate the animals from the islands and protect native wildlife.
Scout, Thorn and Spud, who are the first team of stoat detection dogs in Europe, have spent the past two weeks undergoing intensive training on the archipelago.
In the same way as drug or bomb “sniffer” dogs are coached to seek out their targets, the trio are able to detect the scents of stoats and communicate this to their handlers.
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Despite having the same mission, all three animals are different breeds. Spud is a labrador, Scout is a sprocker spaniel and Thorn is an English springer spaniel.
It is hoped that the three dogs will help to eradicate Orkney’s non-native population of stoats, which are notoriously difficult to detect by humans acting alone.
Their duties will include patrolling some of the islands off the Orkney mainland within reach of the stoats, which can swim up to 3.5km in open water.
Stoats are native to the UK mainland but not to Orkney, where they have no natural predators. Skilled hunters, they typically feed on small mammals, birds and eggs but can kill prey much larger than themselves.
The animals were first recorded on the archipelago in 2010 and pose a serious threat to native wildlife such as voles, hen harriers, short-eared owls and other ground nesting birds like red-throated divers, Arctic terns and curlews.
The eradication scheme is being led by the Orkney Native Wildlife Project, a partnership between RSPB Scotland, NatureScot and Orkney Islands Council.
Frank Holmes, who trained the dogs through his specialist company Kryus Ltd, said it had been a “privilege” to work with them as part of the project.
“Although it has been a long journey getting to this stage, meeting the handlers and seeing the bond they have started to develop with each dog has been worth the wait,” he added.
“It is reassuring to us that we are leaving the dogs, and the stoat canine detection side of the project, in good hands. We will be back up soon, with additional dogs and will continue to develop the new dog teams as they embark on their journey.”
Chris Bell, biosecurity officer for the Orkney Native Wildlife Project, added: “Biosecurity measures are essential to prevent stoats spreading from the Orkney mainland to other islands, putting more native wildlife at risk and making the challenge to eradicate stoats even greater.
“The dogs will completely revolutionise our ability to maintain island biosecurity.”