Detection dog joins seabird rescue mission on Rathlin Island

Detection dog joins seabird rescue mission on Rathlin Island

Woody, a two-year-old Fox Red Labrador, has become the newest member of the innovative LIFE Raft project on Rathlin Island. Dubbed ‘The Unit,’ Woody’s mission is to aid in the conservation of seabirds by detecting and eliminating invasive ferrets.

Rathlin Island, situated off the north coast of Northern Ireland, has seen its seabird populations, including Puffins and Guillemots, severely impacted by ferrets and rats—both invasive species. With only one in three Puffin chicks surviving last year, the urgency to restore the island’s ecosystem is critical.

Michael Rafferty, LIFE Raft Fieldwork Manager, said, “We have all been so excited to welcome Woody to LIFE Raft. It’s been no easy feat attempting a world-first eradication, and we knew we needed the best dog for the job to get us over the finish line. Woody’s ludicrous energy levels, uncanny sniffing skills, and goofy grin ticked all our boxes.”

The LIFE Raft project, spearheaded by RSPB NI and the Rathlin Development Community Association (RDCA), aims to eradicate these invasive predators. Since October 2023, the team has trapped 98 ferrets, edging closer to achieving the world’s first feral ferret eradication.

Arriving on Rathlin in May, Woody, guided by his handler Michael Rafferty, Fieldwork Manager, began his mission by familiarizing himself with the island and its community before starting his search for any remaining ferrets. Following his summer ferret hunt, Woody will be retrained to address the threat of brown rats, which have plagued the island since the 1800s, preying on ground-nesting birds.

Michael Cecil, Chair of the RDCA, added, “This project isn’t just about protecting wildlife. Thousands of people travel to Rathlin every year to experience the sights and sounds of the amazing seabirds, so protecting the wildlife means protecting a whole way of life, as well as securing the livelihoods of many of the people who live here. This project has the potential to protect the future of this historic island.”

Images by LIFE Raft

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