By Marlies Nicolai, Research Assistant at Auchnerran
The Game and Wildlife Scottish Demonstration Farm, Auchnerran, has now been operating for two years and it is a project which focuses on the conservation and research of a grassland and livestock (sheep) dominated hill edge farmland system.
The objective of the farm is to effectively manage the farm by combining agricultural, ecological and game sporting needs and in doing so, creating a dynamic system in which wildlife and their habitats can thrive in a managed agricultural setting.
In order to meet this objective, a number of innovative and in some cases, controversial methods may well be tried, tested and researched to identify which new methods can be effectively used on the farm to ensure that the desired and realistic outcome is achieved.
One new project which will be running on the farm is the Laser Fence Project, supported by the LIFE Environment and Resource Efficiency fund and led by Dr Alex Mason of Liverpool John Moores University. By using a certified laser system developed by Bird Control Group, we will identify whether or not the lasers will deter/disperse pest/predatory mammal species such as rabbits, rats, weasels, stoats and fox.
The laser system is very effective in dispersing bird species, however little to no research has been carried out on the effects these lasers will have on mammal species movements and behaviour.
Before the lasers are set up and positioned on the farm it is first necessary to identify where best to find our test species.
Currently our Field Assistant, Ruth Highly, and I are setting up camera traps within woodland areas that border fields. The aim of this is to capture images of pest/predatory species so that we can then decide where to place the lasers in relation to the animals caught on camera. The lasers need to be placed in an area where there is evidence that pest/predatory species occur.
Baiting camera trap with pheasant
Each camera trap is baited with either pheasant or rabbit carcases which are strung up on trees. Sometimes the camera traps are baited with carcases attached low to the ground as stoats and rats are more likely to feed on bait in this location. The camera traps have so far captured images of pine marten, fox, badger, otter, buzzards, roe deer and of course many rabbits.
To increase the likelihood of capturing evidence of the desired species, track tunnels have been placed in the vicinity of the camera traps. The tunnels are placed along small animal tracks, concealed with vegetation and an ink card is placed within the tunnel. If an animal passes through the tunnel we will be able to identify which animal has passed through by looking at the inky footprints left behind.
The camera traps will continue to be run for the next month to find the ideal location for the lasers so that the project can soon begin.