A BASC Green Shoots pro­gramme to con­trol in­va­sive non-na­tive mink has been rolled out across Wales. Helena re­ports

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Ear­lier this year I was for­tu­nate to at­tend a fact-filled and fas­ci­nat­ing BASC Mink Con­trol Course run by Au­drey Watson, an ecol­o­gist and BASC’s en­thu­si­as­tic and hands-on Green Shoots of­fi­cer for Wales. The course, which took place at the Rhei­dol Power Sta­tion vis­i­tor cen­tre near Aberys­t­wyth, was part of BASC’s Green Shoots pro­gramme that started in Wales in 2005. Thanks to con­tin­ued fund­ing from Nat­u­ral Re­sources Wales (NRW), Green Shoots has now been ex­tended to cover the whole of Wales and fo­cuses on the con­trol of in­va­sive non-na­tive species: mink con­trol to ben­e­fit na­tive wa­ter voles and other species, and grey squir­rel con­trol to ben­e­fit na­tive red squir­rels in key ar­eas.

Ten at­ten­dees, in­clud­ing farm­ers, landown­ers, NRW staff, fish­er­men and other in­ter­ested par­ties, heard Au­drey ex­plain that non-na­tive Amer­i­can mink (Neo­vi­son vi­son), an adapt­able, op­por­tunis­tic mustelid, have be­come widely es­tab­lished through­out the UK since the 1950s fol­low­ing es­capes and re­leases from mink farms, es­pe­cially af­ter the Fur Farm­ing Pro­hi­bi­tion Act came into force in 2000 and many mink were ‘let go’.

Mink have a dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect on na­tive fauna through pre­da­tion on vul­ner­a­ble species of birds such as coot (coot hatch­ing suc­cess is three times as suc­cess­ful when mink are not present), ducks and moorhens, game­birds, fish (es­pe­cially in stocked wa­ters) and on mam­mals such as the na­tive wa­ter vole (Ar­vi­cola am­phibius). Mink are re­spon­si­ble for the 90% de­cline in na­tive wa­ter vole num­bers be­tween 1990, when there were an es­ti­mated seven mil­lion in the UK, and 1998, when num­bers plum­meted to fewer than one mil­lion. They are es­pe­cially deadly to wa­ter voles thanks to be­ing vo­ra­cious hun­ters with fe­male mink able to get into wa­ter vole bur­rows, thereby breach­ing their last line of de­fence. Fe­male mink have a lit­ter of three to six kits each year be­tween April and early May and while nurs­ing will hunt ex­ten­sively over a home range of some three kilo­me­tres of wa­ter­ways. Re­moval of fe­male mink close to wa­ter vole colonies be­fore the end of April will pro­tect voles and nest­ing birds dur­ing their breeding sea­son.

The idea be­hind the BASC’s mink con­trol cour­ses, which are free to at­tend, is to train vol­un­teers to trap and dis­patch mink; vol­un­teers can also bor­row rafts and traps. By the end of 2014 BASC had more than 100 rafts and traps be­ing man­aged by BASC mem­bers, fish­er­men and con­ser­va­tion part­ners across North Wales, with over 100 mink be­ing culled per year. This suc­cess means BASC has ex­tended the net­work to ar­eas iden­ti­fied in the Wales Wa­ter Vole Strat­egy with mink con­trol ar­eas now hav­ing been es­tab­lished around Bedgellert, the River Du­las, Magor Marsh, around Pen­dine and Llanelli, and in Mid Wales.

While con­ser­va­tion bod­ies agree that mink con­trol is an es­sen­tial tool in wa­ter vole con­ser­va­tion, ob­vi­ously best prac­tice must be ad­hered to; as Au­drey ex­plained, con­trol must be

‘Mink have a dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect on na­tive fauna through pre­da­tion on vul­ner­a­ble species of birds, such as coot, and on mam­mals such as the wa­ter vole’

ap­pro­pri­ately tar­geted, hu­mane, dis­creet and form part of a wider strat­egy to in­clude wa­ter vole habi­tat man­age­ment. The best way to con­trol mink is by live capture us­ing a cage trap fol­lowed by shoot­ing with an air­gun. Firstly, how­ever, a mink raft with a wet­ted clay pad is placed in a suit­able po­si­tion on a river or pond to see if mink are present, which is easy to es­tab­lish due to their dis­tinc­tive five-toed foot­prints. If, af­ter a week or two, the clay pad shows mink foot­prints a trap can then be placed on the raft; this will usu­ally catch mink within a few days of it leav­ing its tracks. Once set, the trap must be checked ev­ery 24 hours, ide­ally in the morn­ing and more of­ten in hot weather. Any non-tar­get species must be re­leased of course, but any mink caught must be killed; it is il­le­gal to re­lease them back into the wild. Dis­patch is best done with an air ri­fle or pis­tol while the mink is still in the trap by fir­ing a shot into the skull, avoid­ing the strong bony cen­tre­line. Dis­posal must be ac­cord­ing to cur­rent leg­is­la­tion and BASC also asks for a record to be kept of the lo­ca­tion of traps and how many mink are caught and dis­patched. Re­port­ing forms are pro­vided.

The course also cov­ered firearms law and safety and we also had time to learn about the life­cy­cle and habits of wa­ter voles. Vol­un­teers in­ter­ested in mink trap­ping should get in touch with Au­drey and some of you may also be in­ter­ested in help­ing with her wa­ter vole sur­veys over the sum­mer. For more in­for­ma­tion, con­tact de­tails and a guide to mink con­trol best prac­tice, check out­ser­va­tion/ green-shoots/green-shoots-in-wales/minkcon­trol-and-wa­ter-voles

Many Amer­i­can mink were re­leased into the wild af­ter the Fur Farm­ing Pro­hi­bi­tion Act came into force in 2000 Mink are re­spon­si­ble for the wa­ter voles’ de­cline

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