Scots are being asked to take part in a major project to get rid of invasive mink in an effort to protect native wildlife.
Nature agency Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) is calling for members of the public to help identify hotspots for mink around Perthshire and Tayside so the predatory animals can be removed.
American mink were brought to Scotland to be reared for the fur trade in the 1930s, but following escapes and releases soon became established in the wild.
Today the species poses a significant threat to Scottish wildlife, especially ground-nesting birds and rare mammals such as water voles.
Mink are opportunistic and ferocious hunters and will take whatever prey is available, often killing more than they require for food.
The latest work, which is part of the four-year Scottish Invasive Species Initiative (SISI), comes following a successful eradication project in the Outer Hebrides that showed removing mink had a beneficial effect on seabird colonies.
Now SNH and local fisheries managers plan to set up a network of mink rafts – devices designed to detect mink by footprint evidence – in areas surrounding the River Tay and River Tummel.
They are hoping to recruit an army of volunteers, including school children and community groups, to help track down the creatures ahead of the breeding season.
Mark Purrmann-Charles, SISI project officer for the Tayside area, said: “One female mink hunting a 4km stretch of river can take 100 water voles over the three to four months of feeding her young – that is ten water vole colonies, often an entire local population, wiped out.
“We really want to remove them in spring before they breed and their young spread widely and cause devastation to native wildlife.”
SISI aims to control mink across most of northern Scotland – covering 29,500km2.
For the current operation the team is seeking volunteers in areas around Blairgowrie and Rattray, Couper Angus, Carse of Gowrie, Aberfeldy, Pitlochry, Luncarty and Stanley.
Once mink are detected, a live-capture trap will be put on the raft and the animals caught then humanely killed.
SISI project manager Callum Sinclair added: “We know we can’t deal with mink on our own, and so the success of our control work hangs on the support and dedication of our growing network of volunteers adopting rafts and helping monitor for their presence and support their removal.”