Otters' Tale I ended up doing a fair amount of research into mink. They
do, after all, share the same life space as otters albeit as blow-ins to
our isles dating back to a period between the First and Second World Wars
when they arrived to populate fur farms.
Mink have a reputation
for being vicious. I not sure how entirely true this is - I'd rather go
head-to-head with a mink than an otter any day of the week. But that aside
they are curious and resourceful guys; there was truly never any chance of
them remaining within the confines of the farms. Wild populations were soon
established and like any good interloper they found their niche in the
natural hierarchy. As luck would have it, at least for them, the otter
population was in decline so they filled the vacuum. At the time some
blamed mink for the disappearance of the otter but as we now know this was
caused by organophosphates.
There was a small hope
that when fur farming was finally abolished in the UK in the 2000's that
mink, without recruitment from farm escapees, would go into terminal
decline. However, after over half a century they were firmly established
across most of the mainland. Like otters mink have few predators but they
seem to be smarter when it comes to roads; traffic is the biggest single
killer of otters but I truly don't ever recall seeing roadkill mink. In
fact the only threat to mink are otters; when otters move in mink move out.
The resurgence of the otters has made life a bit tougher for mink but they
remain a pest, efficient predators of water voles, fish, water fowl and
just about anything else that moves and makes for a tasty snack. In return
they add very little to the natural order of life by the river. They are
takers not givers. With all that in mind a proposal has surfaced for the
total eradication of mink in the British Isles.
This is, make no
mistake, impressively ambitious. The only comparable exercise I can find is
the eradication of the Thylacine or the Tasmanian tiger from that island in
the late 1800's. The province of Alberta, Canada had managed to eradicate
the brown rat with a programme that has run since the 1950's and various
islands in New Zealand, the Galapagos, Alaska and Scotland have been
similarly (or almost) successful. The Russian and Chinese have attempted to
eliminate tigers but simply succeeded in reducing numbers which is much the
same story as for the northern European efforts against wolves.
I have to congratulate
the group behind MinkFreeGB; they have the idea but they also seem
genuinely interested in exploring the pros and cons before firing the
starting gun. They pose four very valid questions: Is it feasible? Is it
affordable? Is it justifiable? Is it socially acceptable?
The answers to the first
two questions sort of run together. One of the great issues with mink
eradication is that it is time consuming and labour intensive. Mink traps
are 'live', that is to say you bait the trap and capture the mink alive, so
the traps must be checked daily. However, there are now smart traps that
alert you by text when triggered. Likewise the emergence of eDNA testing
quickly tells you if you have mink in your neighbourhood, water analysis
revealing their presence anything up to 21 days later. If this sounds all a
bit CSI it is simpler than you might suppose. PondNet distributed thousands
of kits to volunteers in 2015 for a nationwide survey into the Great
Crested Newt. This sort of rigour is required because it is easy to capture
the first 95% of the mink in any given area. It is that last 5% that takes
the time and effort. There is no doubt that any eradication programme will
be expensive, but technology might make it both feasible and affordable.
capturing a fish
My gut feeling that the
weakest part of the MinkFreeGB argument revolves around the justifiable
question, what harm do mink really do? Yes, they do kill things, water
voles in particular, but they are not solely responsible for the
precipitous decline in the water vole population since the 1980's; habitat
loss, urban sprawl and pollution are important factors. Would removing mink
see a nationwide recovery of Ratty? This needs to be proved beyond
question, as do any of the other negatives attributed to mink in relation
to native wildlife.
Finally, would a mink
cull be socially acceptable? It is easy to assume yes, but with the
continuing furore surrounding badgers nothing is certain. In my view I'm
pretty sure the theory of common good will win out with most who consider
this issue - a few should die for many to survive. However, there are
plenty of animal absolutists who take a very different view: all animals
have a right to life regardless of the harm they may or may not do. It is
going to take some deft PR.
Maybe we'll have to take
a leaf out of the RSPB playbook who have won the case for eradicating mice
from Gough Island, one of the most isolated places on the planet out in the
South Atlantic 1,750 miles from the nearest mainland, a breeding colony for
many rare seabirds including the Tristan albatross. Here the non-native
mice predate on the chick populations, eating through the body wall near
the rump of the bird while they are still alive. It can take up to four
days for the chicks to die. The time delay video makes for unpleasant
viewing as a 30 gram mouse slowly eats to death a 1 kilogram albatross.
week Yellow Pages celebrated, if that is the correct word, the final
distribution of their directory to homes in Brighton. After 53 years it is
Naturally enough this
was reason enough to resurrect the J.R. Hartley television advert that ran
in in 1983. I groaned. It was a phenomenally successful campaign, an ad
that is regularly featured in the top ten adverts of all time. In the
unlikely event that you haven't seen it the pitch goes something like this;
an elderly man spends a fruitless day visiting bookshops seeking a copy of Fly
Fishing by J. R. Hartley. Back at home he slumps exhausted in his
armchair where his daughter presents him with a phone and a copy of Yellow
Pages. Soon he has located a copy of the book and when asked for his name
so it may be kept for him he replies, "My name? Oh, yes, it's J. R.
Such was the impact of
the advert many assumed the fictional J.R. Hartley really existed and the
actor Norman Lumsden became something of a fishing celebrity despite having
never held a rod. However, that was not the end of it. In 1991 author
Michael Russell wrote and published Fly Fishing: Memories of Angling
Days under the pen-name of J.R. Hartley. It was a best seller, racking
up sales of 187,000 that Christmas alone. There was then a sequel which did
equally well and just to round off Hartley's sporting credentials Golfing
by J. Hartley was published. Such was the power of this unlikely brand
that when Lumsden died in 2001 at 95 years of age Yellow Pages ran the
Hartley - Classic Yellow Pages advert
Why did I groan? Well,
to update Henry II's beseeching cry "Will no one rid me of this
turbulent advert!" It is fun. And it is an immaculately crafted 52
seconds of film work. But the elderly, tweed clad Hartley did little to
update the image of fly fishing. In fact, as does much of the best
marketing, it drew on stereotypes to make a point and reinforced the
mistaken perception of our sport. Hopefully now we can lay both the image
and the advert to rest for ever.
are not overwhelmed by the number of consultations coming your way here is
the official link for the Environment Agency survey which I wrote about in
the previous Newsletter.
I would not embark on the survey without a strong glass of something at
your side; it is a survey compiled by bureaucrats with academics in mind.
It is full of what I believe lawyers call leading questions. But such is
the way of a world where we have to jump through the hoops of others in the
hope that our voices will be heard.