Am Bratach No. 227
September 2010

Aliens have landed in Kylesku!
by Mandy Haggith

Residents of North West Sutherland are being invited to help prevent the invasion of a dangerous predatory alien. It comes in the night and travels with stealth. Locals are being warned not to be taken in by its cute appearance: the American mink (Neovison vison) is a merciless killer.

A confirmed sighting of a mink was made a few weeks ago at three in the morning, at Duart Mor near Kylesku, by Chris Daphne, a fisheries biologist who works with the West Sutherland Fisheries Trust. “It ran across the road and I knew immediately what it was. I’ve seen lots of them before, while working on the Conon River.”

Mink are ruthless predators, attacking a wide range of species and posing a significant threat to salmon populations. They also attack ground nesting birds such as black-throated diver, red-throated diver, greenshank, redshank, lapwing, curlew, oystercatcher and snipe. They are the primary culprit in the decimation of water-voles, which have suffered a 96% reduction in numbers in Scotland since the 1950s. They will also opportunistically target domestic poultry.

The whole of Caithness and Sutherland was until recently a mink-free area, but they are now moving in from the east and south. Five mink have been caught south of Loch Broom and their footprints have been spotted in the Ullapool area. In previous years, there have been mink sighted at Loch Assynt and on the River Oykel. As well as Chris Daphne’s confirmed sighting in Kylesku, unconfirmed reports have been received of mink close to the Ardvar fish farm in Loch A’Chairn Bhain on the west coast, and just above Loch Shin.

A joint project involving the Fisheries Trust, Aberdeen University, the Scottish Wildlife Trust and others has now launched into work to try to track down any other invading mink. The aim of the North of Scotland Mink Control Project is to prevent colonisation of the north-west Highlands by creating a network of mink monitoring rafts and removing any mink detected. The raft is a simple wooden structure with a clay bed to catch footprints.

Lois Canham of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, who is co-ordinating the project, said: “We hope the animal sighted at Kylesku can be captured. This is a good time of year to trap mink, because the juveniles are becoming independent and dispersing, so catching them now can help us to prevent expansion of the population.” She said that particular vigilance is needed in the North West.

Andy Summers, Highland Council ranger, encouraged anyone who is interested to learn about identifying mink and get involved in the project. He said: “If the mink can be caught sooner rather than later, that would be best. Prevention is better than cure.”

American mink was originally introduced into the UK for fur farming in 1929 and it escaped into the wild in the 1950s. Mink is sometimes confused with young otter or pine martin but is smaller than either of them, similar in size to a ferret. Its head is not as pointed as a pine martin. It is dark furred and has a distinctive white mark on its chin. Its droppings are long and thin and have an oily, unpleasant smell.


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