Rescued dogs help protect our wildlife

Ireland’s first ”conservation dogs” are being drafted in to protect native wildlife by sniffing out invasive weeds and disease.

The dogs – some of which are rescued from animal shelters – are the latest weapon in the fight to root out Japanese knotweed, infamous for infesting Irish gardens, homes.

Former psychologist Helga Heylen set up Conservation Dogs Ireland, based in Co Clare, after being inspired by similar schemes in New Zealand. She then fine-tuned the dogs’ ”trigger scent” to knotweed, to suit Ireland’s needs.

“To my knowledge, we have now trained the first ‘knotweed’ dogs in the world in Ireland,” Ms Heylen said.

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Labradors and beagles make the best eco-warriors thanks to their keen sense of smell, she added. The dogs’ services are being used by councils, engineering firms and construction companies in both Ireland and the UK.

“Our dogs can sniff out knotweed when it is underground and not visible to the human eye,” Ms Heylen said.

The dogs wear a light harness equipped with GPS and – once they detect the weed – they perform a ”quiet alert”.

“We don’t want them to disturb any wildlife such as frogs or birds,” said Ms Heylen. “So when they find knotweed they sit very still and stare. The GPS then logs their position and that is connected to Bluetooth, which sends a report of all the sites the dog has alerted us to.”

The information is then given to a weed management company which sprays and excavates the site.

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