MINK IN THE UK AND IRELAND
The North American mink (Mustela vison) is a member of the Mustelidae or weasel family whose natural range covers most of the USA and Canada. It is not a native species to the British Isles and yet the creature is now endemic in our countryside. Why?
Firstly the reason they are here at all is because they were imported and bred in their thousands for exploitation by our fur trade. The species was first brought to Britain in 1929 and to the Republic of Ireland in 1951.
The ability of mink to escape from their captivity was clearly of concern to the fur trade as is evidenced by the following reference in one of the standard texts on mink farming:-
“A guard fence surrounding the pens has a dual purpose. To prevent an escaped mink getting right away, and to keep dogs and other unauthorized visitors away from the stock. While the loss of an escaped mink is bad enough, it is frequently followed by heavy claims for damages from enraged poultry keepers whose birds have been killed by ‘a black shiny animal like a ferret’” (Mink in Britain by J.H.F. Stevenson of Peregrine Fur Farm, Moretonhampstead, Devon. 1957)
Mink were also aided in escaping by the failing finances of some farms. G.F. Raeburn writing under the caption “Blood lust of the wild mink” in the Aberdeen Evening Express August 7th 1982 made this observation: “as the years passed many of the mink farms found themselves in financial difficulties, and the owners of some of them simply liberated their surviving stock.”
If these fur farmers had expected their released mink to merely die they were singularly ignorant. The habitat the mink found was much the same as in their native North America and they thrived. Once the mink were put in our countryside by the fur trade it was the activities of other animal abusers – the hunters – that spread the species the length and breadth of Britain. For a few hunters the summer pursuit of this semi-aquatic mammal is a near obsession. For them in the early 1970s the arrival of mink in numbers was very timely as they were fast running out of their normal summer hunting quarry – the otter. Their hounds quickly took to hunting mink as well as otters. They killed some mink but they drove other mink up and down our rivers far from where they found them.
The North American mink is much smaller that the European otter (Lutra lutra). Male mink can weigh up to 1.5kg with the females about half that size (0.5 to 0.8kg). By comparison otters vary in weight from 5.5 to 16kg. Mink breed once annually, with mating occurring from February to April. Before the Hunting Act 2004 the UK mink hunting season ran from March to September. The former mink hunts still try to hunt our rivers during this same time period but now claim to be hunting rats, or trail lines or they claim to be just exercising their hounds.
Mink have a widely varied diet according to the food available. It includes large insects, frogs, rabbits, rats, fish and birds. Hunting and shooting enthusiasts and their friends in the media are keen to exaggerate the threat posed by mink to our native wildlife but responsible scientists take a more considered view.
Chris Smal writing in “Feral American Mink In Ireland A guide to the biology, ecology, pest status and control of feral American mink Mustela vison in Ireland (1991) states: “despite their varied menu, their dietary requirements do not generally interfere with human interests to any great extent.”
Here is an article by Dr John Birks published in RSPCA Today in Summer 1982:-
Here is the second page:-
And here is a letter by the late Ian Linn (1921 - 2007) published by the Daily Telegraph on September 18th 1982:-