I’m not nor­mally one to carp, but...

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Front Page -

The dogs and I were giv­ing the koi break­fast in their pond in the orchard when I caught sight of a big fish ly­ing out­side the pond, in the grass. Near it was a smaller one. The lit­tle fish, glit­ter­ing metal­lic gold net­ted with black, its bright­ness yet un­faded, might have grown into a very hand­some fish. The big­ger one, a big ugly ghost carp, had some of its tail torn away. The blood was still welling in a nearby punc­ture wound. I ex­am­ined its mouth and found what looked like a pierc­ing from a fish hook. Had some­one come in by night and tried a lit­tle coarse fish­ing at my ex­pense?

I fol­lowed the dogs into the wood and there on the bank of the south pond was an­other fish, a cru­cian carp this time; I turned it over and saw that part of its belly had been chewed out. What crea­ture would take three mouth­fuls only to aban­don a fine, fat fish? Then on the bank of the west pond, I found an­other fish, still gasp­ing. It must have been caught well af­ter sun-up. I could have tossed it back in the pond and let it take its chances, but it had no busi­ness be­ing there in the first place. The ponds in the wood are for our am­phib­ians, but we have been un­able to keep them free of feral carp, some de­scended from the koi and some not, all car­ried hither and yon as eggs picked up on the feet and feath­ers of wa­ter­fowl. In­stead of hun­dreds of newts in the ponds, we have a few fat carp. Ex­otic crea­tures re­leased into the wild are as the ge­nie re­leased from the bot­tle. When you tip your old gold­fish into the lava­tory, you are do­ing no­body any favours.

Carp are stolen from lo­cal ponds ev­ery day, but this ma­rauder pulled the fish out of the wa­ter only to leave them be­hind. The heron could not have taken fish of that size, and what it took it would have swal­lowed. Do­mes­tic cats and foxes can’t swim, and the only way any an­i­mal could have got any fish out of the raised, deep carp pond would have been by div­ing in. No ot­ter would have trav­elled so far over land from the trout ponds or the river. I rang a man, who rang an­other man, and they agreed. The crea­ture that was catch­ing my fish for fun was al­most cer­tainly a mink.

It is in fact quite wrong of me to ac­cuse the mink of killing my fish for fun. Killing fish for fun is a hu­man spe­cial­ity, oth­er­wise known as a sport. The mink is no more given to friv­o­lous ir­re­spon­si­bil­ity than it is to vi­cious­ness or mal­ice. Many car­ni­vores in­dulge in sur­plus killing, usu­ally be­cause they need to store food in time of plenty. In its Cana­dian home­lands where the hunt­ing sea­son is short, the mink kills whole­sale and caches suf­fi­cient food to last the frozen win­ter. It’s not an evil killer; it is sim­ply an an­i­mal in the wrong place. My place.

There are Euro­pean mink, but they are now well on the way to ex­tinc­tion. There is no record of their ever be­ing found in Bri­tain. The mink that are mak­ing in­roads into our bio­di­ver­sity are descen­dants of Amer­i­can mink, im­ported to be farmed for their fur. Strong, ag­ile and re­source­ful beasts, they reg­u­larly es­cape from cap­tiv­ity. They have been known to be breed­ing in the wild since 1956. In those days they came in all the colours of the fur trade, but now they have re­verted to their nat­u­ral dark brown. I saw my first mink in th­ese parts 20 years ago. I have been wait­ing for mink to find my goslings ever since.

One of my neigh­bours who should know bet­ter is happy to tell the world that Bri­tain was free of th­ese “killing ma­chines” un­til the Nineties, when mad an­i­mallovers broke into fur farms and set large num­bers of an­i­mals free. The mink that were lib­er­ated then, hav­ing been bred for ease of han­dling, had for­got­ten how to be­have like wild mink and were soon re­cap­tured. The mink that have been breed­ing in the wild for as many as 60 years are smaller and fit­ter. The crea­ture that braved the cage around the carp pond, leapt onto the para­pet, dived in and then man­aged to climb out with­out drop­ping the heavy fish has all the at­tributes of an apex preda­tor. Even so, it prob­a­bly does less dam­age to bio­di­ver­sity than the aver­age do­mes­tic cat does. There is no cam­paign to re­move our dar­ling pussies from the wild, but there are at­tempts, patchy and un­der­re­sourced, to erad­i­cate the mink. Though any dog that had the mis­for­tune to cor­ner a mink would be in se­ri­ous trou­ble, mink are cov­ered by the ban on hunt­ing wild mam­mals with dogs.

You may not hunt a mink, but you are en­cour­aged to kill it. The most ef­fi­cient method is by first us­ing a baited raft to as­cer­tain its pres­ence, then set­ting a cage trap baited with meat or anointed with mink lure, which mim­ics the scent emit­ted by the mink’s anal glands. Once the mink is in the trap you shoot it. This is a vari­ant of the method de­vel­oped by Prof Mor­ris Gosling in the Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture, Fish­eries and Food (now Defra) cam­paign to erad­i­cate the coypu, which achieved its ob­jec­tive in De­cem­ber 1989. Erad­i­ca­tion of the mink has been sug­gested as a nec­es­sary con­di­tion for the re­build­ing of the wa­ter vole pop­u­la­tion; but it is doubt­ful whether Gosling’s meth­ods would be tol­er­ated now. When (and if) the mink are erad­i­cated, it will be time to go for the munt­jac, the fal­low deer – and the carp. Among the few good things that you could say about mink is that they have been known to kill cats and rab­bits, for which ser­vice the loss of a few feral carp is not such a high price to pay.

Fish sup­per: the crea­tures that are men­ac­ing lo­cal

wildlife are de­scended from Amer­i­can mink

Fur cop: a trap on a raft, above, may catch preda­tory mink

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