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Volunteers sought for Skye and Lochalsh Mink Project

Issued: 4 May 2010

Skye and Lochalsh Environment Forum (SLEF) has recently received confirmation of funding from the European Community Highland LEADER 2007-2013 Programme, Scottish Natural Heritage and The Highland Council for a survey for the presence of mink across Skye and Lochalsh.

A contract will be available to someone with suitable experience to coordinate a team of volunteers and conduct the survey between August 2010 and April 2011.

The group aims to survey at over 50 locations using voluntary effort to assess the current status of mink across the area by visiting monitoring rafts or tunnels at regular intervals over the period of the survey. The project aims to collect sufficient evidence to justify a programme of eradication of mink throughout Skye and Lochalsh similar to the Hebridean Mink Project currently being conducted by Scottish Natural Heritage in the Western Isles. The group will also be pleased to receive reports of sightings and images of mink from the public.

American mink were brought over to Scotland in 1938 for fur farming, the first animal escaping in the same year! Feral mink are now known to be present in all Scottish mainland counties except Sutherland and Caithness, and are found on Arran, Skye and the Outer Hebrides. They are semi-aquatic and therefore competent swimmers, assisting with their spread between islands.

Mink are a problem in Scotland as they are indiscriminate predators, surviving on a wide range of native species including water voles, which have seen a drastic decline since the release of mink in the country, other small mammals, a range of bird species, and fish. They also predate domestic stock, usually hens and ducks. The release of mink in the Outer Hebrides resulted in a dramatic fall in the success of breeding populations of terns and mink are also claimed to have negative effects on fish farms and game birds such as grouse.

Mink are likely to have first crossed to Skye at the Kylerhea narrows and have been recorded from all major points around the Skye coast-line. The position is similar in Lochalsh, where there have been confirmed sightings along the shores of Loch Alsh, Loch Duich and outer Loch Carron. Across the whole area, sporting and agricultural interests are affected, with salmon, trout, poultry and game at risk from mink predation.

Bird colonies across the area are known to have been predated by mink, notably on the Sandaig Islands in the Sound of Sleat, where declines to
extinction were noted of terns, gulls, ducks and waders since the mid 1980's. Anecdotal evidence suggests that other species including eider duck, merganser, red-throated and black throated diver have also been affected. Water vole populations in Lochalsh and Wester Ross are threatened by mink as they continue to spread northwards from the original release - escape site in Argyll during the early 1980's.

Roger Cottis, local long standing Mammal Society member, said: "As a non native invasive species, American mink need to be removed from our environment. However, we need to provide good quality scientific evidence of their presence in order to attract sufficient funding to move to the second phase of the project, that of humane eradication. Our native wildlife needs your dedicated support and help to achieve success. If left in our environment their continuing spread northwards will have devastating consequences for our native wildlife. Beyond the monitoring programme a trapping scheme is envisaged to compliment the efforts further north. This would help to reduce recruitment. At positions where mink have been recorded using clay pads on rafts and in tunnels, traps designed to fit on the rafts or in the tunnels will be deployed and any mink caught will be humanely despatched."

Rob Raynor, Scottish Natural Heritage mammals' advisory officer, said: "The distribution of mink in the north west of Scotland is patchy and we welcome this initiative because it will provide a much clearer picture of mink distribution in Skye and Lochalsh, thereby informing any possible future management decisions."

Anyone interested in volunteering to help with the project can contact John Phillips, Highland Council's Senior Countryside Ranger on 01471 820 086 or by email: john.phillips@highland.gov.uk

Skye and Lochalsh Environment Forum is a partnership of groups and individuals with an interest in the well-being of biodiversity and landscape in the West Highlands of Scotland, on the Isle of Skye and in and around Lochalsh. The aims of the group are "to promote and enhance the conservation, awareness and welfare of biological diversity throughout Skye and Lochalsh". Further information may be found on the following website: www.slef.org.uk

© 2010 Highland Public Services Partnership.
Project part-financed by the European Union (European Regional Development Fund) within the INTERREG IIIB Northern Periphery Programme