Last weekend I went to Cheshire Wildlife Trust for a demonstration of Conservation Dogs!
“Conservation Dogs is a centre that trains wildlife detection dogs to assist with conservation needs and ecological surveys”.
Louise Wilson set up Conservation Dogs recently using her expertise as Head of Training and a Director of Wagtail UK Limited, a specialist detection dog and handler training centre. Louise was originally approached for help with a project in South Africa, training dogs to detect Cheetah Scat. Using her passion for wildlife conservation and expertise as a dog trainer, Louise started Conservation Dogs and has trained several dogs to different wildlife scents in order to assist and carry out ecological surveys. At the moment this includes pine marten scat detection, natter jack toad detection, pest detection and bat carcass detection, and hopefully in the near future Great Crested Newt detection. Cheshire Wildlife Trust have recently approached Louise for doormouse nest detection, and a training program for such is under way and progressing steadily.
The mornings demonstration by Louise showed us a search exercise with Trigger, her Springer Spaniel, who is trained to detect bat carcasses. This is being used more and more on wind turbine sites to test if they are having an effect on bat population and mortality rates. Louise also gave a training demonstration, showing us how they train the dogs to detect a certain scent and handling techniques.
Louise and Luna, her pine marten scat detection dog, have recently featured on BBC Springwatch, searching an area where pine martin sightings have been reported to try to find evidence to support these. Although there were no scats located Luna did show a lot of interest behaviour, later confirmed to be in areas that sighting had been reported. A positive sign and enough to spur on further studies.
Conservation Dogs is a revolutionary program that could greatly improve wildlife studies and conservation actions. A dog can efficiently search an area quickly with pinpoint accuracy. They have minimum impact on a habitat and the wildlife. Dogs can be trained to any scent, all Louise needs is samples to use and a month of training. Everyone should be on-board and I hope that more and more organisations seek out to use Conservation Dogs to aid them.
Conservation Dogs have been met with a level of opposition, and there is concern that using dogs will have a bad impact on the wildlife. However these dogs are highly trained and extremely obedient. They follow their handlers every instruction and certainly do not chase or attack wildlife. Not only that but dogs make as much impact to the wildlife as a fox!
Seeing Louise’s passion tied with her expertise as a dog trainer filled me with inspiration and I wish her all the best for the future of Conservation Dogs.
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