Stoats (Mustela erminea)
and weasels (Mustela nivalis)
are widespread and thought to be relatively common across Britain, but are under-studied and poorly understood. Traditionally, gamebag data collected by gamekeepers have been used to record the distribution and abundance of the species, although the accuracy of these data has been questioned. There is a need to develop an effective survey methodology to monitor population levels and changes in the species.
The Trust has recently developed baited hair-tubes to detect stoats and weasels and these are being piloted in parts of Wales as part of our MISE project. The Trust successfully trialled the use of hair-tubes on Irish stoats and is further exploring detection methods for this species (see below).
The Irish stoat (Mustela erminea hibernia) is considered to be a near-endemic subspecies, with >90% of the global population estimated to occur in Ireland; it also occurs in the Isle of Man. It is believed to be common and widespread, but no reliable data exists.
In 2010, the VWT undertook a pilot study to test the use of hair-tubes to detect the elusive Irish stoat along the extensive hedgerow system in County Galway. Hair-tubes were designed with sticky pads placed inside short lengths of plastic tubing to collect the hairs of small mammals passing through. 600 hair-tubes were deployed in hedgerows and stone walls with the help of volunteers and any hairs collected were DNA tested to determine the species. Of 338 hair samples submitted 174 were suitable hairs for DNA testing, of which 36 were stoat, proving that hair-tubes are an effective methodology for detecting stoats along hedgerows.
Click here to read more about the survey.
The video below shows how to make, set up and deploy stoat hair tubes.