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Caithness News Bulletins March 2006

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Nature & Environment

The American Mink In Britain

Western Isles

Non-native Mink Removed From Uists  - Next  Areas To Be Tackled Will Be Lewis and Harris
The removal of non-native American mink from the Uists has been successfully achieved by the Hebridean Mink Project, and trapping and control will officially end today (Friday 31 March 2006).

The population of mink on South Uist, North Uist and Benbecula has been eradicated, thereby helping to ensure the future of internationally protected ground nesting birds.

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has confirmed 30,000 has been approved for further work in Harris to halt the spread of the voracious predator which is alien to the Western Isles and the UK. This three month extension of Phase 1 of the Hebridean Mink Project will employ three trappers and will also prevent the spread of the mink back to Uist.

To date, 302 mink have been caught on Harris. In the Uists, the number is 230.  The last known mink caught in the Uists was on 8 March 2005.

The Uists include some of Europe's most important areas for wild birds. Mink are non-native predators which take large quantities of eggs, chicks and adult birds. In addition to this, mink also impact directly or indirectly on crofting, fishing, fishfarming and tourism.

Project chairman, David Maclennan of SNH, said: "American mink is a non-native species and voracious predator and is also putting the future of protected ground nesting wild birds in the Western Isles at risk by eating chicks, eggs and adults.

"We are pleased to report that the first phase of the Project in the Uists has been successful in terms of our objectives, and our policy of the control of mink has yielded satisfactory results.

"Trapping in the Uists will officially end on Friday, bringing a successful conclusion to our work there, but SNH is committed to continue this vital Project to ensure that mink do not have an adverse environmental impact on the native species of the Western Isles.

"We need to be vigilant, and SNH would ask that people in the Uists keep their eyes open and inform us if they see any mink, so that we can take action as soon as possible.

"We have secured additional funding of 30,000 which will allow us to keep trapping in Harris for the next three months to ensure that the mink do not spread back to Uist before we have the chance to set up the second phase of the Project in Lewis and Harris.

"The success of the Project has been achieved through a combination of hard work, intensive trapping and humane control, and we are now concentrating our efforts to prevent further spread of mink in the Western Isles. All of the trappers and staff involved have done a tremendous job and should be proud of their achievements."

SNH is working towards securing funding for Phase 2 of the Project, which has the more ambitious aim of eradicating mink from the whole of Lewis and Harris, and will eventually result in complete eradication from the Western Isles.

This next phase is expected to take around five years and cost around 2.5m. SNH will continue submitting funding applications to a range of organisations.

The first phase of the Hebridean Mink Project started in 2001 with the aim of the eradication of mink from North Uist and Benbecula and their drastic reduction in South Harris.

The organisations behind the initiative are Scottish Natural Heritage, the Scottish Executive, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council), Western Isles Enterprise, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and the Central Science Laboratory.

Half the 1.65m budget for the project has been provided by the EU LIFE 'Nature' Fund, which is set up to help the protection of 'Natura' sites designated under the EC Habitats and Wild Birds Directives.

Scottish Natural Heritage is the Scottish Executive's statutory advisor in respect to the conservation, enhancement, enjoyment, understanding and sustainable use of the natural heritage.

The presence of mink stems from mink farms which closed down in the 1960s. The Uists include some of Europe's most important wild bird sites which are protected under the European Wild Birds Directive in designated Special Protection Areas (SPAs). The UK is required by the Directive to protect the interests of SPAs.

The Hebridean Mink Project was established to eradicate American mink from North Uist and Benbecula and to dramatically reduce their numbers in South Harris. It has been underpinned by community liaison on the main issues and detailed research in the form of a feasibility study carried out by Central Science Laboratory.

The project remains crucial in determining how the far larger task of wider eradication throughout Lewis and Harris should be approached.

The Project is bringing more than 1.65m of European, public and other funding to the Western Isles. It has been made possible after the presence of several European nature conservation areas in the Uists were used to attract half the money from the EU LIFE Nature Fund. This Fund aims to help the protection of 'Natura' sites designated under the EC Habitats and Wild Birds Directives. As part of the application, Scottish Natural Heritage confirmed a 443,000 contribution to the project, along with 150,000 from the Scottish Executive, 100,000 from Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, 52,000 from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, 42,000 from Central Science Laboratory and 35,000 from Western Isles Enterprise.