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Home News Notes from the sticks: Menace in a mink coat

Notes from the sticks: Menace in a mink coat

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I KNOW it’s not a laughing matter, but I found it hard to suppress a snort when I read this in the i newspaper on Monday:

‘Heartbreaking scenes are playing out at farms across the Netherlands as a million mink are culled.’

What does the cretin who wrote this think would happen to the mink otherwise – become much-loved family pets perhaps?

If you want heartbreaking, how about the conditions in which the mink are kept at fur farms? The females spend their lives in tiny wire cages with hardly enough room to turn round and give birth to five or six young every year. These are slaughtered at the age of about nine months.

There is plenty of evidence of cruelty, which I am not going to detail here. Being culled might almost be preferable to such an existence.

Fur farming was banned in the UK in 2000, but it is estimated that there are 110,000 mink living wild in Britain. They are American mink (Neovison vison), imported when fur farms opened here in 1929. At the peak of the business in the 1950s, there were at least 400 farms in the UK, not to mention unregistered back garden enterprises. Feral mink were established to be breeding by 1956, and I presume the first few were mainly the result of escapes. However in the 1980s and 1990s animal rights activists broke into a number of farms and released thousands of the animals. Here is a sample BBC report from 1998 which mentions a total of 15,000 released mink. Even if most were rounded up, run over on the roads or shot, there would have been plenty to start breeding.

This is a thorny issue for the animal rights lobby, which plays down or ignores the role its adherents played in boosting mink numbers in the wild. The problem is that mink are voracious and opportunistic predators which will eat almost anything they can catch including rabbits, small mammals, chickens, ducks, moorhens, fish, frogs and invertebrates. Apparently they have a high metabolic rate and need a lot of food. They have had a particularly significant impact on water voles (Arvicola amphibius, Ratty in Wind in the Willows).

This is what the People’s Trust for Endangered Species says: ‘Water voles have undergone one of the most serious declines of any wild mammal in Britain during the 20th century. The intensification of agriculture in the 1940s and 1950s caused the loss and degradation of habitat, but the most rapid period of decline was during the 1980s and 1990s as American mink spread. Between 1989 and 1998, the population fell by almost 90 per cent.’ (The current estimated population is 875,000.)

You will note that there is no mention of releases by activists in the 1980s and 1990s. Must be a coincidence. Other organisations take the same line, for example the Wildlife Trusts mention ‘predation by American mink which were brought to the UK for fur farming’. The League Against Cruel Sports goes so far as to say mink need protecting. Anything to avoid acknowledging that animal rights fanatics deliberately and knowingly allowed a voracious non-native predator to cause havoc amongst native species.

After the end of fur farming, the mink population was controlled to a certain extent by hunting with hounds but this was outlawed in 2005. Since then the mink have largely had it all their own way.

I have never seen a mink, but they are active in this area of Lancashire and I may have had a brush with them. [Warning: the following may be distressing.] A few years ago several of my juvenile Hermann’s tortoises were horribly attacked within a few days of each other, the tops of their shells taken off and the insides scooped out. This happened even though they were in (as I thought) a secure enclosure, but I have since found out that mink can squeeze through very narrow gaps. I used one of the corpses as a container for rat poison and left it out in the open. The whole thing soon disappeared and I have not had a problem since but I am still nervous and have improved the security of the enclosure. Other culprits could have been rats, but I don’t think rats would have been strong enough (and this is not their method of attack – they go for limbs).

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Notes from the sticks is going on holiday for a few weeks. I hope to be back at the beginning of September.

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Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth is a retired national newspaper journalist. She runs the Subbing Clinic in a hopeless attempt to keep up standards, and co-runs A & M Records where she indulges her passion for 60s pop.

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