RSPB is recruiting a tracking dog to protect the British seabird islands against the threat of rats
RSPB hires a tracking dog as part of a £ 1 million project to protect the 41 seabird islands of Great Britain from the threat of rats
- The detection dog will most likely be a cross of a spaniel or a small terrier
- It will be the first dog in the UK to be trained for such a purpose
- The project is inspired by similar programs in Australia and New Zealand
- When the dog finds rats, volunteers are sent in with traps to tackle the problem
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) will recruit a tracking dog to protect the protected seabird islands in Great Britain from the threat of rats.
The pooch – which is likely to be a spaniel or a small terrier cross – will accompany and patrol its handler in the 41 UK protected seabird islands, 29 of which in Scotland.
The tracking dog will be the first in the UK trained for such a goal, inspired by the success of similar schemes in Australia and New Zealand.
The RSPB will recruit the dog to monitor so-called special protection zones as part of a £ 1 million nature protection project funded by the European Union.
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The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) will recruit a tracking dog to protect the 41 protected islands of Great Britain against the threat of rats (stock image)
‘It is a preventive project – which is much more cost-effective. Instead of solving the problem, we try to prevent it in the first place, “said RSPB project manager Tom Churchyard.
“One of the major threats to seabirds is invasive predators such as rodents.”
“Rats can do great damage and are globally involved in extinction.”
Rats and house mice are known to be stored in cargo before they run amok on islands by gazing at eggs and chicks.
Presently, nature conservationists rely on so-called chew blocks – candle wax dipped in chocolate – to tempt rats to give away their location.
Other methods currently used are 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 the wax, “Mr. Churchyard said.
“This is where the dog comes in because he can actively detect the presence of rats.”
“A dog can cover a large area quickly and efficiently.”
The preventive project is part of a broader EU-funded £ 1 million four-year program to protect species at high risk of global extinction.
A fast response network of specially trained volunteers on rodent hunting – which can reach any island within 48 hours – will be on standby.
When rats are found on an island, volunteers are deployed armed with traps to hunt for predators.
Earlier this year a colony of black rats was discovered on the island of Inchcolm, which attracts thousands of tourists every year to visit the 12th-century Augustinian abbey
“It is important to emphasize that the training is for odor detection only and that the dog will not be used in any way to control rodents,” said Mr. Churchyard.
“We know from experience of people working elsewhere in the world that the use of well-trained dogs can be an excellent tool.”
Certain islands in the Firth of Forth are home to internationally significant numbers of water birds, including godwits, plovers, knots and eiders.
Earlier this year, however, a colony of black rats was discovered on the Inchcolm island in Forth, which attracts thousands of tourists every year to visit the 12th-century Augustinian abbey.
A dog will be trained next year and collaborated with an RSPB handler before the pair is deployed in 2021.
“As you can imagine, the dog must be well trained for such a job,” Mr. Churchyard said.
“There are currently no biosafety dogs in the UK that are trained to detect the presence of rodents.”
“We want the dog to work in the UK to both demonstrate the benefits of biosafety dogs […] and to help with our work on the British Isles. “
WHAT IS AN INVASIVE SPECIES?
An invasive species is one – be it animal, plant, microbe, etc. – that has been introduced in a region where it is not native.
Usually human activity is responsible for their transport, whether by accident or intentional.
Hammerhead flatworms have become invasive in many parts of the world. They enjoy indigenous earthworms, as shown
Sometimes species hitch a ride around the world with freight shipments and other means of travel.
And others escape or are released into the wild after being held as pets. A good example of this is the Burmese python in the Everglades in Florida.
Plants such as Japanese knotweed have seen a similar fate; first spread for beauty in Europe and the US, their rapid spread has quickly turned them into a threat to native plant species.
Climate change also helps drive non-local species to new areas, as plants begin to thrive in regions they may not have before, and insects such as the mountain pine beetle benefit from drought-weakened plants, according to to NWF.