RSPB recruits a sniffer dog as part of a £1million project to protect Britain’s 41 protected seabird islands from the threat of rats
- The detection dog will most likely be a spaniel or a small terrier crossbreed
- It will be the first dog in the United Kingdom to be trained for such a purpose
- The project was inspired by similar programmes in Australia and New Zealand
- If the dog finds rats volunteers will be sent in with traps to tackle the problem
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) will recruit a sniffer dog to help protect Britain’s protected seabird islands from the threat of rats.
The pooch — which will most likely be a spaniel or small terrier cross — will join its handler patrolling the UK’s 41 protected seabird islands, 29 of which are in Scotland.
The detection dog will be the first in the UK to be trained for such a purpose, taking inspiration from the success of similar schemes in Australia and New Zealand.
The RSPB will recruit the dog to monitor so-called Special Protection Areas as part of a £1 million European Union-funded conservation project.
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The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) will recruit a sniffer dog to help protect Britain’s 41 protected seabird islands from the threat of rats (stock image)
‘It’s a preventative project — which is a lot more cost-effective. Rather than trying to solve the problem we’re trying to stop it occurring in the first place,’ said RSPB project manager Tom Churchyard.
‘One of the really big threats to seabirds is invasive predators like rodents.’
‘Rats can cause utter havoc and have been implicated in extinctions globally.’
Rats and house mice are known to stow away in cargo before running amok on islands by gorging on eggs and chicks.
Currently, conservationists rely on so-called chew blocks — candle wax dipped in chocolate — to entice rats into giving away their location.
Other methods currently used include camera traps and tracking tunnels in which passing rodents leave footprints.
‘These techniques are quite passive and rely on the rodent to interact – [such as] to chew on the wax,’ said Mr Churchyard.
‘This is where the dog comes in because it can actively detect the presence of rats.’
‘A dog can cover a vast area quickly and efficiently.’
The preventative project comes as part of a wider £1 million, four-year European Union-funded scheme to protect species at high risk of global extinction.
A rapid response network of specially trained rodent hunting volunteers — able to reach each island within 48 hours — will be on standby.
If rats are found on an island, the volunteers will be deployed armed with traps to hunt the predators.
Earlier this year a colony of black rats was discovered on the Forth’s Inchcolm Island, pictured, which draws thousands of tourists every year to visit its 12th-century Augustinian abbey
‘It’s important to highlight that the training will be for scent detection only and the dog will in no way be used in rodent control,’ said Mr Churchyard.
‘We know from the experience of those working elsewhere in the world the use of well-trained dogs can be an excellent tool.’
Certain islands in the Firth of Forth are home to internationally important numbers of waterfowl, including bar-tailed godwits, plovers, knots and eiders.
Earlier this year, however, a colony of black rats was discovered on the Forth’s Inchcolm Island, which draws thousands of tourists every year to visit its 12th-century Augustinian abbey.
A dog will be trained up and partnered with an RSPB handler next year before the pair are deployed in 2021.
‘As you can imagine the dog needs to be well-trained for such a job,’ said Mr Churchyard.
‘There are currently no biosecurity dogs in the UK trained to detect the presence of rodents.’
‘We aim to work the dog in the UK to both demonstrate the advantages of having biosecurity dogs […] and to help with our work across the UK’s islands.’
WHAT IS AN INVASIVE SPECIES?
An invasive species is one – be it animal, plant, microbe, etc – that has been introduced to a region it is not native to.
Typically, human activity is to blame for their transport, be it accidental or intentional.
Hammerhead flatworms have become invasive in many parts of the world. They feast on native earthworms, as shown
Sometimes species hitch a ride around the world with cargo shipments and other means of travel.
And, others escape or are released into the wild after being held as pets. A prime example of this is the Burmese python in the Florida Everglades.
Plants such as Japanese knotweed have seen a similar fate; first propagated for the beauty in Europe and the US, their rapid spread has quickly turned them into a threat to native plant species.
Climate change is also helping to drive non-local species into new areas, as plants begin to thrive in regions they previously may not have, and insects such as the mountain pine beetle take advantage of drought-weakened plants, according to NWF.