Tuesday, August 11, 1998 Published at 16:23 GMT 17:23 UK
Anti-fur campaigners slam mink release
Mink are efficient predators, originally from North America
Anti-fur campaigners have condemned the release of thousands of mink from a New Forest farm as a "disaster" for their cause.
Up to 6,000 of the voracious predators were freed from Crow Hill fur farm near Ringwood on Saturday in a raid claimed by the Animal Liberation Front.
Conservationists have warned the mink will wreak environmental havoc on wildlife in the area.
And the anti-fur group Respect for Animals, formerly Lynx, has branded the incident a public relations disaster in a war it was winning.
Respect for Animals spokesman Mark Glover said: "This is a disaster, I can't believe anyone seriously involved in the campaign against the fur trade would be involved in this.
"It's a disaster for the campaign, and it's a disaster for the mink, which will be shot or run over in huge numbers."
Animal Liberation Front spokesman Robin Webb claimed direct action was justified because the government had not fulfilled its pre-election pledge to ban fur farming.
But Mr Glover dismissed the view as naive. "The Government has said it's going to ban fur farming and there is no reason to believe they are not going to do so.
"This campaign has been a great success story. The days of fur farming are numbered and all of the fur trade knows that."
Mike Everett of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said: "What they are is very efficient predators, and in large numbers that can do a consideable amount of damage.
"No matter what happens to all these minks - whether they be shot, trapped, or die of starvation - some will survive and threaten ground nesting birds in the spring."
About 2,000 were rounded up immediately and another 2,000 have been shot or run over, but the rest are still on the loose.
Mink is originally a North American species, but has been farmed in Britain for many years and the animals are already living in the wild in Britain.
A spokesman for the ALF, Robin Webb, defended their actions: "I know many of the mink are going to die, but at least they will have had a taste of freedom."
He denied that the mink will destroy the local ecosystem: "As they are territorial animals, you're not going to get packs of mink running around for a long periods of time. They're not going to wipe out entire species.
The New Forest is on an international list of the world's 900 most important wetland areas and was named as an environmental haven after the Rio Earth Summit.