Saturday, 2 February 2019

Mink. Enemy of the people?

Mink. Enemy of the people?


When I was writing 
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.

Tasmanian tiger
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.

Mink 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.

If you would like to register your view on mink eradication use this link to complete the short survey or email

Not so good old Yellow Pages

Last 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 all over.

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. Hartley."

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 advert again.

J.R. Hartley - Classic Yellow Pages advert
J.R. 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.

If you really must watch it again here is the link.

Coarse season consultation

If you 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.

The Quiz

More questions to hopefully entertain and enlighten. Two bonus questions this week! As ever it is just for fun with the answers at the bottom of the Newsletter.

  1. What is the name and purpose of the implement pictured?
  2. How many mink are required to make a full length coat?
  3. Who wrote The Rime of the Ancient Mariner?
  4. In golf how many under par for a single hole is an albatross?
  5. And a condor?

Have a good weekend.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature 
Founder & Managing Director


  1. A cleave which is used for capturing eels.
  2. Around 60
  3. Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  4. 3 shots
  5. 4 shots. The last recorded condor was in 2007 over a 510 yard par 5 in Australia.

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