As was recently reported in Shooting Times (News, 23 September), several groundnesting bird species in the Outer Hebrides, including terns and gulls, have shown a marked improvement in their breeding this year. The reasons for this are numerous, but certainly the removal of more than 1,100 mink from Harris and Lewis in the past two-and-a-half years has been a major factor.

The removal of the mink must be viewed in itself as a huge success when you consider the size, scale and remote topography of the islands. In fact, it’s the largestever trapping project of its kind.

The Outer Hebrides provides mink with 305,000 hectares of land, 3,297km of coastline, 1,831km of river and 4,721km of loch edge populated by internationally important birds and numerous salmon species. There are few of the mink’s natural competitors and predators on the islands, making it an extraordinary haven for them.

Some of the mink were trapped by conscientious keepers, some by crofters, but the vast majority were caught by the professional trappers employed by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) on the Hebridean Mink Project (HMP). These trappers used the latest satellite technology and mapping software as well as their traditional trapping skills to locate and service all 6,995 traps currently in place.

Most of these traps are only accessible by foot, meaning every trapper walks
an average of 3,500km a year in all weather conditions.

The trappers know that the best way to catch an animal is to identify its Achilles heel. Therefore, the HMP trappers use mink gland to bait the traps for most of the year and fresh fish and lure at other times. The use of the lure saves time, money and inconvenience, and when walking up to 20km a day and servicing 25 to 40 traps, that is extremely important. Running the traps for the maximum number of nights of the year is key to the success of the project.

So why is there so much time, effort and money being put in to eradicating mink? The main reason is the devastating effects of these non-native species on indigenous flora and fauna, which is only just beginning to be fully appreciated.

Large-scale non-native species eradication projects such as the HMP and the removal of the ruddy duck from the UK can only work with the co-operation of national and international conservation bodies, governments and the general public. In many ways the biggest success of the HMP was in SNH successfully securing the necessary funds and political backing in the first place.

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At that time, almost two-thirds of those who responded to the debate supported my proposal and I am certain that many more will now agree with me in the light of recent developments.

Let us take the lead on this issue and start a vigorous campaign to legitimise the sport of shooting woodpigeon by its inclusion on the quarry
list. As the saying goes, “wake up and smell the coffee” and heed what Natural England is saying.

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