SCOTTISH NATURAL HERITAGE have announced a £500,000 “full scale eradication project” to wipe out stoats on Orkney.
SNH have outlined their plan for the five-year project – which aims to dispatch the non-native stoats from the island.
Experts say the stoats are a menace to local voles – and have a knock-on effect on the rare short-eared owls and hen harriers which hunt them.
470 stoats have been spotted on the island in the past year – meaning that if it is an accurate figure for the population, the purge would cost more than £1,000 per stoat, in spite of being run by volunteers.
SNH have led many other pricey attempts to eradicate animals from Scottish islands in the past.
A 13-year agency project to rid the Western Isles of 2,000 mink recently concluded – at a cost of £6.4m.
In 2011 experts pronounced a £1.3m hedgehog cull on the Western Isles a failure, saying there had been no noticeable effect in protecting the eggs of wader birds.
And earlier this year a report estimated that it would cost the agency £4.6m to eradicate brown rats from the Isle of Rum in order to protect local seabirds.
Stoats were first spotted on the Orkney five years ago – but their numbers have skyrocketed in recent years.
In 2014 the number of sightings were recorded at 290 – whilst this year they have jumped dramatically to 470.
Now SNH have announced an all-out plan to eradicate the animals from the northern Scottish island – using volunteers to trap the unwelcome visitors.
Rachel Cartwright, who is coordinating the trapping, said: ““We will be training volunteers and supplying them with equipment to trap and monitor the stoats
“We will be training up to 50 volunteers initially and are especially keen to hear from people living on Burray and South Ronaldsay to ensure good coverage across all areas of Orkney where stoats have been sighted.
“There is a risk that stoats may reach the other isles and it is important that residents are vigilant for evidence of stoat activity, for example when hay or straw is being brought in.
“We urgently need people across the islands to join our volunteer trapping team to ensure that any stoat incursions to new areas can be dealt with immediately.”
Graham Neville, Northern Isles operations manager for SNH said: “We are committed to tackling the issue of stoats in Orkney and are setting up a full-scale eradication project with a view to bid for external funding.
“Our priority is the control of the population and distribution of stoats in Orkney. Everyone can be assured that animal welfare is our top priority and is central to the project.
“Any animal caught will be handled and dispatched in a humane and legal manner.”