Every mink in Britain 'to be exterminated'
MINK could be completely eradicated from the UK in an unprecedented attempt to remove one of the country's most destructive alien invaders, The Scotsman can reveal.
Plans are in place to apply for millions of pounds of EU funding to carry out a mass eradication in hot spots across Britain.
This would be the first time the war on an invasive species was carried out on a national scale.
American mink, which were brought to the UK for fur farms in the 1950s, have destroyed huge numbers of native animals in the UK, particularly water voles and seabirds.
If the EU funding bid is successful, the money would be spent on trial trapping projects in areas across the UK where mink are abundant, such as Cairngorms National Park, East Yorkshire and Somerset. The nationwide cull is being examined by a consortium including government agencies and universities, led by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT).
Jonathan Reynolds, head of predation control at GWCT, said the funding bid was still at a very early stage, but could be lodged by the end of the year. He said it was too early to know whether it would one day be possible to entirely wipe mink out from across the country. "I wouldn't rule it out, but I don't know whether it could ever work because we haven't ever tackled a sufficiently large scale," he said.
"I think everything we are doing at the moment is a stepping stone. It would be fantastic if we could eradicate them."
Local extermination projects are already taking place across the UK and are showing considerable signs of success. Experts believe the effectiveness of these schemes could pave the way for full-scale mainland eradication
The biggest mink extermination programme in the world is being carried out in the Western Isles, known as the Hebridean Mink Project, and is well on the way to achieving its aim of ridding Lewis and Harris of all the alien invaders. A team of trappers has already killed more than 800 of the islands' estimated 1,500 animals.
Iain Macleod, mink eradication expert at Scottish Natural Heritage, who is leading the project, thinks a nation-wide eradication attempt would be a good idea, and he believes it would be feasible to wipe out mink from the mainland.
"It would be difficult in the extreme and it may take 40 or 50 years but you could, in my opinion, get the numbers of mink in the UK down to such low levels that you could conceivably eradicate them," he said.
The Hebridean Mink Project alone will cost 5 million, and Mr Macleod believes to wipe out mink from the whole of Scotland could cost at least 20 million. He thinks any attempt to carry out a full-scale project to eradicate mink might depend on the success of smaller-scale efforts such as the Hebridean Mink Project.
EU countries are legally obliged to examine ways to try to control invasive species, which present one of the greatest threats to wildlife across the world.
Other invasive species in Scotland include crayfish, Japanese knotweed and rhododendron.
However, Libby Anderson, the political director for Advocates for Animals, said she would oppose any national mink eradication project. The charity opposes the culling of any animal, preferring relocation.
MINK come from the same family as weasels and otters. They are found in northern Europe, North America and most of Russia west of the Ural Mountains.
They can live up to three years in the wild and ten-12 years in captivity. They have on average four-five kits per litter once a year. The European mink is one of the most endangered mammals in the world.
These highly aggressive predators live a solitary nocturnal lifestyle and prey on a wide variety of animals. The larger males kill rabbits, while the smaller females go after mice and songbirds. Both sexes eat fish and frogs. They inhabit all types of wetlands, but prefer swamps and marshy lakes.
The ruthless predator hard-wired to kill, kill and kill again
THE birds on Lewis and Harris look more relaxed nowadays.
Once they had lived in fear of attack from hordes of vicious predators that killed until they had had their fill, then killed and killed some more.
But that was before the trappers arrived with their enticing oils and their guns.
Some said it couldn't be done. Some said the mink that had escaped into the wilds of the Western Isles many years ago to wreak havoc among the local wildlife could never be brought to heel.
But day after day, since their arrival on the islands two years ago, the 12 trappers have set out into the wilderness in a relentless war against the alien invaders.
Their aim is to destroy an estimated 1,500 mink that have bred and spread across the islands, having escaped or been released from mink farms since the 1960s.
Already the trappers have surpassed expectations by killing more than 800 mink.
"It sounds crazy, but when I first came here all the bird life was nervous. It was living on its nerves," said Iain Macleod, who is leading the Hebridean Mink Project.
"Now when you walk along the shoreline you see the waders and they all look relaxed. I know it sounds utterly mad, but it's true. They are just more laid-back and they know they are safer."
Mink – ferret-like creatures with glossy fur and a devastating instinct to kill – attack vast quantities of native animals and have destroyed populations of rare birds.
In the past two years the trappers have covered every area of ground likely to be inhabited by a mink, including the edge of every single loch, river and even trickle of water. In a strategy almost military in its precision and scale, the whole of Lewis and Harris has been covered in a network of 7,500 traps, meaning at any spot on the island one of the metal gadgets is never further than 500m away. In their cycle of checking the traps, the trappers have already covered a staggering distance – the equivalent to walking twice around the world.
The animals are enticed using an oil the mink sprays from an anal gland to attract a mate or ward off attack.
Mr Macleod, who has gained the nickname Iain the Mink on the island, extracted this himself by hand from dead animals.
However, after six months the team discovered that it could be bought from America online, and the unpleasant practice could end.
Once the mink are caught, they are shot while still in the trap by the trappers using an airgun.
Instead of killing just enough to eat, the mink attack everything.
This is not, according to Mr Macleod, due to a morbid instinct to kill, but because in their native Canada they can kill large quantities of prey and then store it in the frozen ground to eat later.
"People think it's because the mink are evil. It's not that. They are simply following their instincts, which is to kill as many as they can.
"They really are hard-wired to kill and eat. Killing, eating and breeding are really all they think about."
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