I’m not normally one to carp, but...
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