News | Blog | Caught on camera: Stoats and weasels! – volunteer blog

11th December 2018

I volunteer with the Vincent Wildlife Trust in their current project which assesses the effectiveness of “Mostela” camera traps for monitoring Stoats and Weasels in the UK. This part of the project is taking place on a Yorkshire Wildlife Trust (YWT) nature reserve in East Yorkshire called North Cave Wetlands.

Gareth setting up a Mostela

Prior to volunteering with VWT I was also a volunteer ranger for the YWT while studying for my Bachelor’s degree. It’s been great as I’ve been able to get out and check on the Mostelas in my spare time and afterwards I can do my ranger duties for YWT, so in a day’s work I get to help out two fantastic organisations! It’s great being a part of this project as my job while studying has been working at a coffee shop, so being able to get out and do something positive for British conservation allows me get experience for the career I hope to have.

The inside of a Mostela, showing the plastic entry tunnel and camera trap

For my role I check the camera traps once or twice a week depending on available time. This means going out on the reserve and making sure the cameras are all charged up and swapping over the SD cards. I could leave the cameras longer between visits but I like making sure they’re safe and also I get really excited for what data might have been collected over the week.

The results from this project will be really helpful for conservation of our smaller mustelids. A non-invasive way of getting population estimates is always best for the wildlife and is far less resource heavy than other methods like traditional capture – release surveying. As the project has gone along there have been a few surprises that show how much potential this method has in other applications. Having gotten video data of things like grass snakes, the method could be promising for reptile camera trapping which still lacks an accepted “best approach”.

Grass snake © Gareth Dowle

We’ve also had American Mink visit our camera traps. Again, this is a less labour-intensive method of confirming Mink presence for organisations concerned with invasive non-native species.

American Mink © Gareth Dowle

I found out about this opportunity through my attendance at the 7th Annual Mammal Society Student conference where the Vincent Wildlife Trust held a training workshop. This was a great weekend and the workshop was fantastic. It was very lucky really, as Lizzie Croose mentioned the project during the workshop and it just happens that Stoats and Weasels are frequently sighted on the reserve that I volunteer at.

So far, the highlight was definitely the Stoat video. The first Stoat ever captured in a Mostela camera trap in Britain is a great thing to be a part of! I’m hoping that this will continue for the remaining duration of the project and we keep getting great data.

Stoat © Gareth Dowle

For anyone thinking about volunteering with Vincent Wildlife Trust I would whole-heartedly encourage them to do so. There are so many reasons to do it whether it’s being outdoors or using your time to do something more rewarding than watching TV. Ultimately the great work of Non-Governmental Organisations relies heavily on volunteers giving their time where they can, and it is always going to be appreciated and to be a key part of conservation projects give you a sense of pride and achievement that very few other things give you.

I look forward to carrying on volunteering with Vincent Wildlife Trust and hope to see lots of people out there with us in the future.

 

By Gareth Dowle, Volunteer – Mostela project