The Orkneys was a mammal-free zone when glaciation ended some 10,000 years ago. Nothing without wings or fins could get there, until, that is, human beings, that forever restless and inquisitive species, arrived in Neolithic times and decided that a few of their domestic animals might do quite nicely here. Sometime later, a migrant boat, probably from the Low Countries, had another mammal stowed away on board and it too found the island conducive to its needs. These stowaways were common voles, a species widely distributed in continental Europe but absent from Britain, where we have field voles, bank voles and even water voles but not the common vole. When, several millennia later, it was noticed that the unusually large voles found on Orkney were different from the mainland versions, they were christened, perhaps not very imaginatively, Orkney voles and are now seen as a ‘native species’.
Being characterised as a native species is of vital importance in the modern conservation industry. Native species are far less likely to be subjected to lethal control by NGOs than ‘non-native species’. The RSPB, for example, kills just about every mink it can lay its hands on but will not kill stoats, irrespective of the damage they might do, because they are native and the things they prey on have evolved to live, if sometimes precariously, alongside them.
Well, that used to be the case but it has changed. This is because the stoats have done what the Orkney voles’ ancestors did, and what the black rat, the house mouse and the brown rat have all done when they got the chance, and stowed away on a ship bound for pastures new. No one is suggesting that anyone was mad enough to introduce stoats to Orkney deliberately. What seems likely to have happened is that one or more pregnant female stoats stowed away, probably in a consignment of round bales, and found when they emerged that they were in a veritable promised land, full of oversize voles, no competition and no gamekeepers.
A PROBLEM ARISES
I first became aware that there was a problem, a small one at that time, when I met with some senior RSPB staff, shortly after I’d become chairman of GWCT in 2010. I soon learnt that many within the RSPB assume that because I shoot, my knowledge and potential usefulness to them is limited to killing things. Accordingly, they raised the issue of the Orkney stoat and exterminating them and, as a shooter red in tooth and claw, thought I ought to be able to help.
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
His Master's wrath
A great deal goes into the planning of a day’s hunting so woe betide those who upset the Master in the field
Caring for Old Faithful
Buying sustainably is good for both planet and pocket – and it creates a bond with your clothing that fast-fashion aficionados could never understand
There has been a much-needed overhaul of breed standards, says David Tomlinson, although show and working animals are often still worlds apart. A Slumber spaniel, anyone?
Would modernising our attire help buttress fieldsports – or does it simply risk losing an important tradition for no real gain?
Staring down the barrel of a gun
Don’t be distracted by the decoration – when choosing a new shotgun, barrel construction should be a top priority, too
The Flyfishers' founding fathers
Founded in 1884, the club was created for gentlemen with an interest in the art and study of fly-fishing – many of whom had ink in their veins
The state of farming
Brexit, while posing challenges, could open doors for British farmers. However, a changing philosophy around our relationship with the natural world is unleashing more powerful forces
Wine and sport came together as the beaters carefully blanked in the vineyard slopes, pushing the birds forward into a broad, grassy valley Tuffon Hall Halstead, Essex
A mosaic of carefully planned cover crops has created a testing partridge shoot as well as garnering a conservation award – and the birds here are not the only thing to fizz
To have and to hold – safely
No one enjoys staring down the barrels of a gun, so adopt best practice when it comes to carrying yours, whether or not it is loaded
Within their scenic and spacious grounds, resilience is built, pupils are equipped for life's realities and love and respect for the countryside are instilled
A curriculum that emphasises rural traditions and time outdoors better equips pupils to deal with what lies ahead – as these prep schools demonstrate
GETTING INVOLVED IN THE HELICOPTER BOMBARDMENT OF A REMOTE ISLAND… ALL IN THE NAME OF A WAR AGAINST MICE
Floods ‘likely' as Met Office warns of rain and high wind
Warnings of flooding, travel delays, and power outages have been issued for parts of England and Scotland for the rest of the weekend, with the Met Office predicting the possibility of more adverse conditions continuing into next week.
Almost everybody agrees that Britain needs more ponds, not least because a few teal and some mallard add fine variety to shoot days
The golden eagle has landed
Already firmly established in the Highlands, these majestic raptors are now being reintroduced in southern Scotland. Joe Gibbs investigates their reception and the repercussions
Keepers help in fight against egg collectors
Richard Negus investigates cases of illegal raids on wild bird nests and learns that fieldsports is uniquely placed to thwart the thieves
The Anser to their prayers
Fowlers are giving Orkney farmers beset by greylags a fighting chance, says J R Patterson
Sick as a parrot
Lord Botham is prepared to ruffle the RSPB’s feathers over its approach to the countryside. Good, says Robin Scott, who has his own beef with the charity about the culling of parakeets
Give birds a BOOST
From shy wrens to curious robins, be sure to welcome birds into your garden
How does the public perceive our sport?
With the future of fieldsports under the spotlight, Alasdair Mitchell examines how attitudes to shooting have changed in recent decades
RSPB gives mixed message on shooting
Having recently attended the RSPB’s virtual AGM, Conor O’Gorman discusses the outcome of the charity’s year-long review of game bird shooting