Mink Threaten Water Voles
activists have once again grabbed the headlines with the release
of mink in England.
Many people have been caught up in the hysteria surrounding hundreds
of these little animals being at liberty in the countryside.
It should be remembered that mink do not occur naturally in this
country because of the formation of the Channel after the last glaciation
preventing immigration by European mink from the continent.
American mink were introduced primarily by returning servicemen
after the World Wars using their fratuities to set up fur farms.
They solemnly promised that no animals would ever escape, which,
of course, they promptly did.
American mink are a problem not just in Britain, but also in countries
such as Iceland, Argentina, Estonia and Belarus.
After a while the gross overcrowding subsides following an escape
on the scale we have witnessed in 1998, as animals are recaptured,
killed or wander away.
In the British countryside they seem to achieve the kind of balance
in the eco system without appearing to cause much harm, except to
one other creature in particular - the water vole.
However, it looks increasingly likely that this attractive little
rodent is ultimately doomed.
It just has no protection from a creature which can both follow
it down its burrows and outswim it.
Outer Hebrides Mink Cull?
news that up to 10,000 mink may need to be culled by conservationists
anxious to save the ground-nesting sea birds of the Outer Hebrides
might raise a few eyebrows.
The aim is the total extermination of introduced mink and I hope
that, on this occasion, the conservationists succeed.
Over the next few decades thousands of birds will owe their lives
to their efforts if they can remove this predator once and for all,
but it is a tall order.
The Outer Hebrides is a world-class habitat for all sorts of rare
birds which predominantly nest on the ground. They are all at risk
of being wiped out.
Eventual success is always a possibility. In Norway and Sweden,
they have resigned themselves to killing thousands of mink each
year and still there are more filling their places.
very unwelcome interlopers first appeared in 1982, travelling east
along the banks of the North Calder River. All the examples we have
observed have been of the chocolate brown, wild type. Sometimes
we can go for months without seeing one, but then more dead waterfowl
tell their own dismal story, so much so that we have now stopped
using the riverside paddocks for any sort of vulnerable birds.
their depredations, their presence can have its lighter moments.
In 1985, one of the volunteers, a very strong and enthusiastic young
man, greeted the Director as he drove into the Zoo, by triumphantly
emerging from behind a low beech hedge clasping a wriggling creature
with both hands:
"Mr O'Grady, I've caught the escaped ferret from the Education
"But we haven't lost a ferret," he replied, simultaneously
noticing hands and arms dripping with blood!