The Orkney Native Wildlife Project concludes with an appeal to landowners in the Orkney Mainland and the Affiliated Islands to authorize the project to help protect Orkney's wildlife and economy.
The project, which has created more than 25 full-time jobs in Orkney since it launched last year, has already received entry permits from over 750 landowners to protect Orkney's native wildlife – a key driver of Orkney's £ 70 million tourism industry – from the Threat from invasive non-native roosters.
The starting shot is now being sought for the last 30 landowners who were deemed necessary to complete the initial extermination network.
A final effort is also made to find out who to turn to regarding areas of land where the owners are unknown or where they graze together and people are encouraged to contact the project team directly for information to provide.
With the support of more than 750 Orkney landowners, traps have been deployed across most of mainland Orkney and its connected islands. Efforts to ensure all land access required, however, have been hampered by delays due to Covid-19 and concerns from some local landowners, particularly those related to geese management in Orkney.
Short-eared Owl, Copyright Glyn Sellors, from the Surfbirds Galleries
The project is now calling on these landowners to "join the hundreds of others who are helping to protect Orkney's future" to ensure the ultimate access required to complete the Extinction Trap Network.
Stoats are native to mainland Britain, but not Orkney, where they were first recorded in 2010. Since then, the stoat population has increased and spread across mainland Orkney and the Connected Islands, including Burray and South Ronaldsay.
Stoats pose a very serious threat to Orkney's native wildlife, particularly the Orkney vole, chicken-bearer, short-eared owl and other ground-nesting birds for which the islands are internationally important and on which Orkney's thriving wildlife tourism industry relies.
Tourism added £ 70 million to the Orkney economy in 2019-20, and nearly 50% of visitors spend time watching birds and other wildlife. Any significant loss of natural heritage could have a dramatic impact on tourism revenues and put increased economic pressure on businesses already affected by the effects of the global pandemic and the dramatic decline in tourist incomes that followed.
Stoats also pose a threat to free range poultry farming and could also pose an indirect economic threat to Orkney farmers in the long term. The current agri-environment funding system is a points system, with Orkney farmers receiving more points for being in a priority area for wildlife. Should the area become less important to wildlife (e.g. due to the impact of roosters) it could have a major impact on the annual funds received across the county.
Orkney's nature also plays an important role in the health and wellbeing of the people of the islands. Many people became more aware of the outdoors during the pandemic, and their connection has helped people cope during these uncertain and difficult times. Given likely changing travel habits and ongoing restrictions, the local nature becomes even more important.
Stoats have had a devastating impact than alien species in other parts of the world, including New Zealand, where they are involved in three species becoming extinct. The Orkney Native Wildlife Project is determined not to let the same thing happen in Orkney by working with landowners and local communities to successfully eradicate the roosters and take steps to prevent their return.
The rooster removal effort will require a network of approximately 7,000 trap boxes across mainland Orkney and the connected islands, as well as a network of "biosecurity traps" along the mainland coast and on other islands to prevent the spread of roosters.
More than 5,000 trap boxes have been deployed to date and another 500 are currently deployed on land where access has been granted. The project aims to secure land access and deploy all trap boxes by the end of 2020.
With the help of NFUS (National Farmers Union, Scotland), Scottish Agricultural College and SGRPID (Directorate for Payments and Inspections of the Rural Government of the Scottish Government), a land access protocol has been developed that specifies how to access land with minimal disruption for landowners and which should be owned by activities.
Sarah Sankey said on behalf of the project: “We are incredibly grateful to the hundreds of landowners who have chosen to safeguard the future of Orkney's native wildlife, and thus our local economy and wellbeing, by allowing traps on their land. We hope that the last pending permit applications will be issued soon so that the team can complete the extinction trap network. We understand that some people still have concerns and urge people to speak to us so we can find a mutual solution. Only together can we protect the future of our unique and beautiful islands. "
Graham Sinclair, Chair of the Orkney Islands Council for Infrastructure and Development, said: “This project is already bringing significant economic benefits to Orkney at an extremely difficult time for our economy. More than 25 full-time and many seasonal jobs have been created when others are at risk in Orkney. This includes four additional contributions that were recently advertised.
This is important in itself. Additionally, our tourism industry and the wider economy will benefit greatly if the diversity of our native wildlife is protected. This is an important goal. The ground-nesting birds and other wildlife endangered by roosters are highly valued not only by visitors but also by many in our community. I hope the project team can negotiate sufficient access to their network of traps to enable effective eradication. "
The Orkney Native Wildlife Project is a partnership between RSPB Scotland, NatureScot (formerly Scottish Natural Heritage) and the Orkney Islands Council with generous support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and EU LIFE. The aim is to protect Orkney's unique and internationally important native wildlife now and in the future by removing roosters from Orkney.
Staff can contact the project by email at [email protected] You can also find news and updates on the Orkney Native Wildlife Project Facebook page at www.facebook.com/OrkneyNativeWildlifeProject.