Technology to help Scottish mink eradication drive

Mink were introduced to Scotland to be farmed for their fur but some ended up escaping. Picture: Complimentary
Mink were introduced to Scotland to be farmed for their fur but some ended up escaping. Picture: Complimentary
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THE concerted drive to wipe out predatory wild mink from Northern Scotland is now being assisted by cutting edge computer technology, it was revealed today.

The Scottish Mink Initiative was launched two years ago to protect native species from the American invader and clear northern Tayside, Aberdeenshire, Moray, and the Cairngorms National Park of the non-native predator.

The aim of the scheme is to cull the mink by using rafts anchored in rivers to check for their footprints and setting traps in areas where they are found to be present.

But now researchers from Aberdeen University have developed new software that allows the 450 volunteers across Scotland to easily log sightings of mink in the wild and receive detailed and easy-to-understand feedback.

Dr René van der Wal, from the university’s dot.rural RCUK Digital Economy Hub is overseeing the project, He explained: “Due to the geographical spread of volunteers across Scotland, communication has been a real challenge. We have developed a digital platform to efficiently bring together all mink-related data that volunteers collect. What’s more, using high-tech software, the volunteers can receive instant, up-to-date feedback in return.”

Dr van der Wal added: “The MinkApp project illustrates how academic research, technological innovation and hard work of volunteers on the ground can go hand in hand and have a very positive effect on the sustainability of the environment. As such, it can be held as an inspiring example for the use of technology in nature conservation in Scotland and around the world.”

Under the scheme, large amounts of data are collected by the volunteers across the 29,000 square kilometres being covered by the mink initiative area, and a computing technique known as Natural Language Generation allows immediate feedback to be generated for volunteers.

Dr Gemma Webster, a computer scientist at the university , explained: ‘In the Ness and Beauly catchment there have been seven sightings of mink reported in the past 12 months which is lower than the previous 12 months. All your hard work seems to be paying off as there are fewer mink around.”

Chris Horrill, the manager of the Scottish Mink Initiative, said the new technology offered at least two major advantages. He said: “Firstly, the volunteers can receive immediate feedback. Understanding the effect of one’s own work – and that of others – on mink populations, locally or nationally, can be a true reward for our volunteers and may boost their motivation. It means that the volunteers do not have to wait for the newsletter to come out, and can immediately learn about the value of their work.

“Secondly, the submission platform and central database give us the best possible insight into mink population dynamics in Scotland, which is crucial for coordinating local efforts on scales large enough to effectively deal with this species.”

Mink were introduced to Scotland in the 1950s to be farmed for their fur. But escapees have spread across rivers and wetlands, feeding on fish, including salmon, as well as the eggs of ground-nesting birds such as greenshank, lapwing, and corncrakes, and small mammals.

The Scottish Mink Initiative is a partnership project between the Rivers and Fisheries Trusts Scotland, the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Scottish Natural Heritage Aberdeen University, the Cairngorms National Park Authority, and 13 other local organisations.