Page last updated at 14:42 GMT, Tuesday, 8 September 2009 15:42 UK

Mink cull 'boosting bird numbers'

Generic mink
More than 1,000 mink have been trapped on Lewis and Harris

A project to eliminate American mink from the Western Isles could be leading to a recovery in the population levels of some birds, it has been suggested.

More than 1,000 mink have been trapped in Lewis and Harris in the latest phase of the project.

Arctic terns have now been spotted breeding in some areas where they had not been spotted for 20 years.

Experts believe the drop in mink numbers has made the birds more likely to set up smaller colonies.

The ground-nesting birds may previously have been more likely to pack into a handful of sites when mink numbers were at their peak.

Iain MacLeod, manager of the Hebridean mink project, said it was too early to draw any definite conclusions despite the "encouraging signs".

He told BBC Scotland that numbers of some other species of ground-nesting birds were also increasing in the Western Isles and the Uists, which he believed could be due to fewer mink preying on them, and an increase in the number of sand eels which the birds feed on.

Mink, which are not native to the UK, have been living wild on Lewis and Harris since the 1960s.

It is thought they were brought from the US to be bred for the fur trade but were released or escaped from mink farms which were no longer commercially viable.

The mammals prey on ground-nesting birds, such as terns, particularly in the breeding season.

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