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Monday, November 30, 1998 Published at 10:13 GMT


Uniting against mink

Mink killing sprees are decimating rare bird populations

Scottish landowners, shooters and conservationists have teamed up against a common enemy - the mink.

The unlikely consortium is hoping to attract European funding to avert an ecological disaster in the Western Isles of Scotland.

A growing population of more than 10,000 North American mink has been leaving a trail of devastation through the islands, killing rare nesting seabirds and destroying their habitat.

It is believed that mink have been increasing their numbers since animals began to escape from a fur farm near Carloway about 30 years ago.

Populations of rare birds including ringed plover, lapwing dulin, snipe and redshank in the machair - red sand areas unique to the islands - are being decimated by the predators.

[ image: Since escaping from fur farms, the population has exploded]
Since escaping from fur farms, the population has exploded
The Mink Eradication Scheme, Hebrides, (Mesh) needs money to finance a live trapping programme.

Scheme members say this will allow otters to be released back into the wild, and mink to be "humanely destroyed".

Mark Miller Mundy, one of the founders of Mesh, said: "The devastation to gull and tern colonies, and to waders, from the predation of mink is sickening and something must be done to remove these American invaders from this fragile habitat.

"We will have someone in the field monitoring the predator populations within days.

Exotic predators

"We hope to be able to start the control operations before the birds start to breed next year."

British Trust for Ornithology spokesman Rob Fuller said: "The machair on the Uists is a truly magical place and one of the most important breeding sites for waders in Europe.

"It would be a tragedy to see the breeding birds slaughtered by exotic predators introduced by man - let's hope that Mesh prevents this from happening."

The first part of the project will be co-ordinated through the Game Conservancy Trust.

Dr Mike Swan, of the trust, said: "This is one issue where sportsmen and conservationists have a common cause. Mink are a terrible problem throughout Britain, but the damage they would do to the unique bird community on the machair would be an international disaster."

Donnie MacLennan, President of the Lewis and Harris branch of the Scottish Crofter's Unions, said he was devastated by the mayhem created by mink.

Slaughter is in vain

He said: "We have been doing our best to keep them at bay, but without full-time workers to track them down the efforts so far have not been very successful."

Chris Mead, another of Mesh's founder members, said: "The problem seem to be that the mink will kill lots of prey and expect to be able to store the food for later because they naturally come from northern areas with perma-frost.

"In Britain the deep freeze storage does not work and so the slaughter is in vain."

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