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WILDLIFE OF NORTHERN ENGLAND

The American Mink---Non -native species -1

The American mink Mustela vison belongs to the family of mammals known as the Mustelidae which includes famiIiar animals such as the weasel, stoat,badger and otter. As far as many conservationists are concerned the name American Minx is a more apt description of this alien species which finds easy prey among the fauna of the U.K.

The mammal has a body length of between 30-27 cm { 12-19 inches} with a tail 12-23 cm about half its body length. The fur is glossy, black brown. The legs are short and its feet partially webbed. The snout is blunt and the small rounded ears are almost hidden by the fur. The mink has white hair on its chin and throat which distinguishes it from the polecat which is of a similar shape and size. The neck is muscular the body slender and sinuous. The males are slightly larger than the females and weigh twice as heavy.

BELOW The American Mink is a fine catcher of fish. Photograph courtesy of John McAvoy. Who has the sole copyright for the image

Copyright belongs to John McAvoy and cannot be reused or downloaded with express permission from him.

History of the American Mink in the UK.

The animals were first imported to Britain in the 1920s to colonize fur "farms" However, this was just the humble beginnings.  It was soon discovered that the animals bred well in captivity and the trade became a lucrative money making making venture to satisfy the fashion fad of the time. The pelts were taken and made into mink coats which seemed to satisfy the vanity of the privileged.

They expanded rapidly during the 1950s and records reveal that by the the 1960s there were over 700 fur "farms" in the U.K.. The number rose to a staggering 250,000 at the peak of this business. Breeders discovered that if they could produce an animal with whitish or silvery fur the money obtained  from them was much greater than for those of the ordinary chocolate coloured fur. Thus many animals had varying colour can be traced back to their ancestors which were bred in captivity  when these farms were in their prime.

With so many animals being kept in cages {many of which were not fit for purpose or at least sub standard} it was only a matter of time before some escaped into the countryside. Because these animals had spent their lives in a cages the "farms" became a target of animal rights action groups. The action included breaking in to these "farms" and liberating the animals from captivity and releasing them in to the countryside.

This well intentioned but ill thought out action played a major part in the mink getting established into the countryside. Some of these animals were easily recaptured. They had spent their lives in cages and had no idea how to survive outside its confines.Others were more adaptable and soon found out there was easy prey for them in the countryside. Ever since conservationists and other wildlife organizations have struggled to control their numbers and restore the imbalance they have caused to the eco -system of our waterways and wetlands.

 

 

What are the problems of mink in the countryside. ?

The American mink in the U.K. have all descended from domesticated animals and are much larger than the native species found in America. They are very skillful hunters and can hunt just as well on land as they can in the water.. Thus they are twice the threat to our wildlife. Their partially webbed feet make them excellent swimmers and they are capable of hunting under the water's surface in the manner of an otter a larger native species. In the water they take fish {as the photograph above demonstrates} , frogs and crayfish. If they gain access to fish "farms"their actions can be devastating. On land they will take birds especially coots and moorhens and/or their eggs, snakes, mice, voles and their favourite prey the rabbit. In fact they will take any creature they can catch.

They do not hibernate and are active throughout the year. In their native habitat they are in the main nocturnal, but here in the U.K. they are active day and night, although they do spend a lot of time safely sleeping in their chosen resting place. The mink do not make their own burrow but content themselves with the burrows made by rabbits and other creatures or they rest between the roots of trees.

One mammal which has been  viciously targeted by the mink is the hapless water vole. This harmless vegetarian has no defense against this ruthless killer. The numbers of water voles have been depleted so severely that are now one of the most endangered mammals in Britain. Water voles are comparatively slow swimmers which make them easy targets. Even if they somehow escape in time to enter their burrows the mink can follow them with ease, in other words there is no escape for them.

below- The water vole has suffered vicious attacks by the mink 

Mink are here to stay.

Mink have one litter per year and after mating the parents lead separate lives. The male takes no part in rearing the young. There is one irrefutable fact about these introduced aliens is that they are here to stay.

                                        MINK AND THE U.K. LAW

The American mink is listed on Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 with respect to England Wales and Scotland. As such it is illegal to release or allow them into the wild.

Being classed as a pest species they have no legal protection. It is legal to trap them providing it is done humanely in accordance with the Wild Mammals {Protection} Act 1996.

Below-Coots and moorhens  are targeted by Mink --Bottom-The eggs of moorhens and coots make a tasty meal for mink.

photos by Dal

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