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A long-term initiative to eradicate non-native mink from Arran has begun as reports of mink sightings and attacks on poultry increase.
The Isle of Arran Mink Eradication Project is being spearheaded by a Kilmory resident who is the daughter of a farmer, her grandfather was a gamekeeper too, and she is also a breeder of rare chicken and geese.
Sam McAulay, originally from Yorkshire but latterly from Islay, started doing research on island predators when she moved to Arran in June 2019 and was astonished to learn of the mink population on Arran.
Realising the prevalence of the species here she took preventative measures to protect her flock.
Since then she has learned of more frequent mink attacks and has decided to do something about it.
Sam said: ‘This is a nature lover’s endeavour. I love animals and the thought of killing any animal is abhorrent, however, mink are doing untold damage to our fragile ecosystem and if we wish to see the survival of native species such as squirrels and voles etc we have to take action now as mink can decimate local wildlife rather quickly.’
American mink, which were introduced to Arran in the 1970s, are dark coloured, semiaquatic, carnivorous mammals which escaped from mink farms and which have once again established a significant population on Arran.
There have been reports of mink sightings in every village on Arran with the exception of Pirnmill and Lochranza but it is thought that might be due to a lack of reporting rather than actual numbers.
Mink are indiscriminate killers and are fearless – if cornered they will attack a human, which demonstrates their ferocious nature.
When encountering poultry or other animals they – unlike badgers which will just kill what they wish to eat – will decimate all animals until the entire flock is killed.
Following a population explosion in the 1980s, efforts were made to cull the animals on Arran but a seal pandemic in the early 1990s brought the population under control.
Since then there has been a steady increase in the population again and attacks on chickens and pets are becoming more frequent with anyone keeping poultry, rabbits or guinea pigs having to take preventative measures.
They are also known to be devastating to ground nesting and migratory bird populations.
Sam approached the Scottish Invasive Species initiative and various other trusts in order to seek funding for her idea but because no funding is available she has embarked on a community-orientated initiative.
She has set up a Facebook group called the Isle of Arran Mink Eradication Project and is encouraging people to report sightings and provides advice and resources on eradicating the non-native species.
The group now has 76 volunteers who have expressed an interest in purchasing traps, or who can provide a limited number of traps, and it also has people with air-rifle licences who will dispatch animals humanely.
All work and advice is done in accordance with Scottish Invasive Species Initiative guidelines (SISI).
Sam has done exhaustive research, taking into account other projects, such as the Hebridean Mink Project, which began in 2001, and others on the mainland, and understands that this is a long-term project, the success of which will rely on on the numbers who get involved.
Sam said: ‘With funding from SISI, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust or Scottish Wildlife Trust we could buy traps in bulk and build rafts or purchase wildlife cameras to monitor more remote locations.
‘Costly testing can also help to establish population numbers but the funding is just not available at the moment.
‘The way I look at it, we can do nothing and continue setting the odd individual trap watching the wildlife on the island slowly decline, or we can actually do our best to try and address it as a community.
‘If you wish to be involved with the project please consider joining the group because as a community we can all help to make a difference to protect Arran’s native wildlife.’
Humane culling projects are already prevalent across Europe, Canada and the United States where large populations of American and European mink are devastating native wildlife populations.
Recently 17 million mink were culled in Denmark after a mutated strain of Covid-19 was found in mink farms.