News | Latest News | The Vincent Wildlife Trust takes on new study of the Irish stoat

14th March 2010

The project is a pilot study to test the use of hair tubes to detect the elusive Irish stoat (Mustela erminea hibernia) along the extensive hedgerow system in County Galway. The Irish stoat 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. The Irish stoat has been present in Ireland for at least 35,000 thousand years and is protected under the Irish Wildlife Act, 1976 and Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000.

Research and methodology

The VWT study will explore the possibility of using tubes placed in hedgerows as a means of detecting the presence of stoats, which avoid open habitats. Sticky pads placed inside short lengths of plastic tubing will collect the hairs of small mammals passing through, and these hairs will then be determined to species using DNA sequencing. If successful, this method could form the basis for the first all-island assessment of the Irish stoat.

Volunteer involvement

The project will depend largely on the help of volunteers, and so will be widely publicised on local radio and in the local press. This will help raise awareness about the Irish stoat, which is still commonly called a weasel – although the weasel does not occur in Ireland. County Galway has been chosen as the study area because extensive data exists on the hedgerows throughout the county, thus it may be possible to link the presence of stoats to certain hedgerow features, such as width, species composition, management regime, etc.

Funding partners

This project is possible due to funding from the Heritage Council of Ireland under its Heritage Research Grant Scheme 2010 and with the support of Galway County Council, which is making available the data relating to hedgerows. The Trust will also be working closely with the Department of Zoology at the National University of Ireland, Galway and the Waterford Institute of Technology.