Detection Dog Woody Joins Efforts to Save Seabirds on Rathlin Island

by Lisa

Rathlin Island, renowned for its picturesque cliffs and diverse bird populations, welcomes a new ally in its conservation efforts: Woody, a two-year-old Fox Red Labrador trained as a detection dog. Woody’s mission is to aid in the detection of any remaining ferrets on the island, as part of the ongoing LIFE Raft project aimed at eradicating invasive species to protect vulnerable bird populations.

The initiative, which began with the deployment of traps in October 2023, targets the removal of both ferrets and rats, known predators of the island’s nesting seabirds. Ferrets and rats pose a significant threat to the eggs and young of internationally-significant bird species that rely on Rathlin’s cliffs for breeding.


Since the inception of the project, nearly 100 ferrets have been trapped and humanely destroyed, marking a significant milestone in the endeavor. The project team, led by Fieldwork Manager Michael Rafferty, expresses confidence in achieving the historic removal of ferrets from the island.


Woody, described as possessing boundless energy and exceptional sniffing skills, is poised to play a pivotal role in the eradication effort. Trained by Natasha Woollon in England, Woody’s training and playful nature make him an ideal candidate for the task at hand.


As Woody familiarizes himself with the island’s terrain, he will soon be deployed to detect any remaining ferrets. Following this phase, Woody will undergo retraining to target brown rats, another invasive species threatening the island’s ecosystem.


In conjunction with the canine efforts, islanders are actively participating in the conservation endeavor. Plans are underway to deploy over 6,000 bait stations across Rathlin Island in September 2024, further bolstering efforts to rid the island of invasive non-native species.

For residents like Teresa McCurdy, the progress of the LIFE Raft project brings hope for the future. Beyond safeguarding wildlife and preserving the island’s ecosystem, the project holds the promise of tangible benefits for residents, including the restoration of a cherished way of life.

Michael Cecil, chair of the Rathlin Community Development Association, emphasizes the project’s significance in protecting the island’s heritage and fostering sustainable livelihoods. With tourism playing a vital role in Rathlin’s economy, the success of the LIFE Raft project holds far-reaching implications for the island’s future prosperity.


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