Skye the English springer spaniel is one of ten detection dogs working within a remarkable conservation project on the Orkney Isles, to keep them free of stoats.

Sky teh english springer spaniel wears an orange harness. Her ears are flapping in the wind at the beach on orkney island
Skye is one of a ten-strong stoat detection dog team on Orkney (Photo: Chantel Carr)

That may sound like a lot of dogs, but since 2010, when the first stoat was spotted on Orkney, this hugely successful predator has bred in its thousands, posing an existential threat to the island’s wildlife (more context on the Orkney Native Wildlife Project website):  

  • Its super high metabolism means it eats 25% of its own body weight every day;
  • It’s not fussy – eggs, chicks, voles, mice, rabbits, hedgehogs, fish, insects and even roadkill are all acceptable;
  • It tends to kill more than it needs and stores the rest to eat later;
  • It’s an amazing hunter –  fast, agile, can climb well and has great eyesight, hearing and sense of smell;
  • It’s a great swimmer too, and can swim 3 km or more (eg to another island);
  • When the baby stoats, called kits, leave home, they can travel over 40 miles in search of their own territory.

Just two years ago, stoats were easily spotted on Orkney, with large numbers roaming over the island, since when over 6,000 stoats have been removed. Now that the numbers are coming down, the dogs’ work is vital, as they perform active searches for stoat scat (poo) and can alert the team to stoat presence.  

The wind can be challenging for scent detection dogs – Chantel doesn’t go out with Skye if the winds are over 45 mph.
(Photo: Chantel Carr)

Handler and conservationist Chantel Carr tells Dogs with Jobs presenter Kate Fairweather about Skye’s working life on the Orkney Native Wildlife Project. She also gives an excellent overview on the aims and objectives of what is Europe’s largest stoat eradication project, and explains the big picture when it comes to protecting Orkney’s famed wildlife.

Skye the springer spaniel wears an orange working jacket. He is standing on the beach and looks at the camera wtih a qizzical look.
The Orkney Native Wildlife Project is the largest stoat detection project in Europe (Photo: Chantel Carr)

The Orkney team swaps information and best practice with counterparts in New Zealand, where stoats were originally introduced to bring down the rabbit population, but have also caused the extinction of a number of native birds.  

Other dogs working in conservation

Do you work your dog or dogs? 

Kate would love to hear from you.  Get in touch via team@shineradio.uk or katefairweather5@gmail.com, and follow Dogs with Jobs on your podcast app.