As another season turns so the calendar of conservation activities changes. For example, once the bird breeding season has finished, it’s time to start coppicing and initiate other woodland management activities. Any pulling of Himalayan Balsam we missed this summer has now set seed, so we stop looking for the plants to pull out. Another activity that we at the CRT undertake outside of the summer months is mink trapping. These American invaders eat water voles and other riverside wildlife, and unless we control their numbers we will lose dear old ‘Ratty’ from the vast majority of the countryside.
Any mink that escape our attentions during the winter will be able to breed the following year, and because we want to make our culling programme as humane as possible, we avoid trapping in the breeding season. It would be wrong to leave dependant young to die of starvation if we caught a breeding female. Our trapping area covers about 60 miles of riverbank on 3 major watercourses in the upper Cam valley, plus several tributaries, so it is quite a contained area, and we try to eradicate mink from this area over the course of a winter.
Over the last 3 years, 160 mink have been caught in this area. Any mink outside this zone are less likely to be trapped, although there are more schemes starting in areas near us as the proven success of the method gets it more widely adopted.
Now that the autumn is here, the furthest areas of the CRT mink control zone are seeing signs of mink once again, and 3 have been caught this week in an area where we are sure mink were eradicated last year. These young mink could have come from as far as 20 miles away! What is really needed is a way to join up all the efforts around the country – mink are one of the most straightforward of the problem aliens in the country but, for some reason, are not being properly addressed by government funding or incentives.
It’s been good to see the BBC tackling the difficult message about mink control being needed to safeguard our native wildlife. Two episodes of the recent series ‘Britains Big Wildlife Revival’ featured the need for mink control. One episode focussed on Rivers and showed a mink raiding a Kingfisher nest, while the last episode, on Wetlands, discussed their impact on water voles. If you want to see them, hurry – only 2 days left on the iPlayer!