A team of five detection dogs head off on an island adventure in this episode of Dogs with Jobs!

The dogs’ job was to survey Scotland’s Isle of May, to benchmark the size of a new colony of storm petrels. The storm petrel is a shy, nocturnal, ground-nesting seabird, which is mainly found in the west and far north coasts of Scotland, but rarely on its east coast.

Sprocker spaniels Molly and Nelson, Storm the Belgian Shepherd and Piper the Springer spaniel are experienced detection dogs, but this was their very first conservation project, as well as a first for Scotland’s nature agency, NatureScot. Given the short time window for the research, Esme a pet Belgian Malinois, had been also been trained on storm petrel scent, as a backup.

Back legs and bottom of a black sproker (cocker spaniel springer spaniel cross) with its head in a burrow, surrounded by summer lichens
“Nose down”. Molly the Sprocker spaniel indicates the presence of a storm petrel in one of thousands of burrows on the island.
(All photo credits: Simon Chapman)

The challenges for the dogs were many. The uninhabited island is home to many different species of seabirds, including over 65,000 puffins, as well as large numbers of rabbits. Add windy conditions and a bumpy boat trip over each day during the survey period, and you have a challenging mix for the dogs.

We see Molly the sprocker spaniel's bottom as she has her head down a burrow - one of six that she is investigating. She wears a yellow harness and long lead
The island is riddled with burrows, each inhabited by up to three different species, so it’s intricate detection work for the dogs.

Simon Chapman of K9 Manhunt Scotland explains to Dogs with Jobs presenter Kate Fairweather how the project came about and how they prepared the dogs, who usually work as drugs dogs, for a new type of project. He also describes how the team stepped up to the challenge of a new type scent in a distraction-heavy environment.

(L-R) Piper, Nelson, Esme, Molly and Storm with handlers Lyn Adams, Lorraine Patterson, Lucy Scott and Simon Chapman

How did they know that storm petrels were on the island?

As part of conservation efforts in the UK and elsewhere, fine mist nets are used as a safe way to capture wild birds for ringing. Licensed ringers place a lightweight ring with a unique number around a bird’s leg. Once ringed, an individual bird can be tracked. Such information allows conservation organisations to understand population changes and trends, and provides information vital for bird conservation. It was through this practice that the presence of storm petrels on the east coast of Scotland was first noted.

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CIff you would be interested in coming on the show, or would like to suggest someone else. You can reach me at team@shineradio.uk.