American mink (Neovison vison) were initially brought to the UK in the first decades of the twentieth century to supply the fur trade. Mink escaped and were also intentionally released into the wild from fur farms in the 1950’s as the demand for fur diminished, establishing feral populations prolifically.
American mink are opportunistic and generalist predators, preying on mammals, fish, amphibians and invertebrates. Due to indiscriminate feeding habits, this invasive alien species has caused a conservation crisis in the UK, negatively affecting many native species through predation or competition, though none so critically than the water vole (Arvicola amphibius).
Water vole populations in Britain have declined by 96% since 1950, leaving these small rodents on the brink of extinction. Although habitat loss and fragmentation has also had a detrimental effect on water vole populations, American mink have been a driving factor in their decline. However, reintroduction programs have ensured the voles’ survival and following a recent release in the river system of Bude in Cornwall, they are once again present in every county in England.
This latest reintroduction could spell the end for American mink in the south west of England, to ensure the survival and progression of the water vole populations. Bordered on three sides by the sea, the south west peninsula is a less complicated area to remove a species from compared to a more central region, as recolonization can only occur from the east.
The removal of mink from the south west and eventually the rest of the UK is a tough undertaking and must be strictly monitored and co-ordinated. Success has been achieved in a number of studies throughout Europe, where trapping and euthanizing mink using special mink rafts has been shown to be an effective approach to mink control. While this method is relatively intricate and expensive, it minimises risk to other species such as otters, which can be inadvertently affected by the use of poisons and other more general control techniques. It is hoped that proper control will once again allow the water vole to flourish in the British countryside.
Strategic Mink Trapping – http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jwmg.500/abstract
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