The great Irish mammal watch
The last nationwide study of stoats was carried out in 1985 by Sleeman. “They are extremely difficult to study. They are not easy to trap, because you don’t know where they are,” he says. Stoats hunt small mammals and birds.
“This project will quantify the number of sightings in an area and give us some idea of where they occur. It is great to have somebody collating records in a systematic way. It’s a breakthrough,” Sleeman says. For May and June, many reports have been of stoat families – mum with two or three kits in tow.
Visitors to the atlas site can see recent confirmed entries. For example, an Irish stoat was seen on April 14th on sand dunes near Kilmore Quay in Co Wexford. Around the same time, a pine marten was recorded in a hedgerow near Timahoe, Co Laois, while an American mink was seen in Tomnafinnoge Wood, Co Wicklow. Red and grey squirrels are the most commonly reported species, which should help identify trends in their distribution.
Montgomery does have some reservations about the public’s ability to correctly identify wild mammals, however. “You would have to use the data with a certain amount of caution,” he says. “How many people know the difference between a red and grey squirrel? They may only see the backend of the animal.” Lysaght says the centre does have a quality control system.
Since the launch of the Atlas of Mammals in Ireland in April 2011, 5,363 records have been added to the database and made available through the centre’s biodiversity maps. The centre’s database, which compiles details on many more species, continues to grow. Thirty additional datasets containing half a million observations were added during 2011, according to the centre’s annual report.
Voluntary organisations have helped a great deal in the case of bats (Bat Conservation Ireland, batconservationireland.org) and marine mammals (the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, iwdg.ie) by submitting their own records.
A deer database added last year showed the spread of sitka deer, a concern to foresters. So far there are no muntjac records this year, says Colette O’Flynn, a researcher at the centre. This dog-sized deer could become a high impact invasive species, so all sightings go through a strict verification procedure.
“There are verified sightings of muntjac in the National Invasive Species Database for counties Down, Armagh, Meath, Kildare, Wicklow and Cork. There have been additional unverifiable sightings in many other counties,” says O’Flynn, who adds that there is no evidence that it has successfully bred here or is established in the wild. If they do start breeding, the population will grow and “probably have a detrimental impact”, says Lysaght.
Wild boar has been seen in the countryside and has bred here, but young were removed. Experts say it is best to deal with invaders early. Montgomery reckons eliminating mink from the countryside would require a colossal undertaking in terms of manpower and funding. Effectively, it’s too late.