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10 July, 2018

Birds flock back to ‘mink free’ Hebrides

Terns, waders, divers and ducks are ‘flocking back’ to their native Outer Hebrides, following the success of a complex and challenging 17-year programme to eradicate the American mink and its devastating effect on native wildlife.

Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Roseanna Cunningham said: “The successful removal of non-native mink from the Hebrides is a significant achievement, and is the result of the sustained commitment and effort of all the staff involved.

“I am delighted that we are already seeing positive results, bringing the return of the seabirds and wading birds which the islands are world-famous for. This will provide a real boost for nature tourism in the Hebrides.”

Mike Cantlay, Chair of Scottish Natural heritage said: “We are delighted that all the hard work has been successful for the nature of the Hebrides. Mink – an invasive non-native species - prey on ground nesting birds and fish. With major funding from the EU Life programme, at the project’s height a team of just 12 core Scottish Natural Heritage staff worked as teams of trappers to remove mink, and help bring back native birds to one of the remotest, wildest landscapes anywhere in Scotland.”

At 3,050km2 - an area twice the size of Fife - the remote Hebridean location meant significant challenges for the project to overcome. Hundreds of islands contribute to a coastline of approximately 2,500km -15% of Scotland’s total. Over 7,500 freshwater lochs - around 24% of Scotland’s total – helped invasive mink grow to dense populations rarely reached in their native North America.

Scottish Natural Heritage Area Manager for Argyll and the Outer Hebrides, David Maclennan said: “Invasive species are one of the greatest threats to the beauty and variety of our nature. But the Hebridean Mink Project shows that we can take on invasive species – and win. It is fantastic to start welcoming back our native species. A range of factors are likely to be at play, but local people are telling us that a mink free Outer Hebrides is having a hugely positive effect on wildlife and the economy.”  

Murray Macleod, an operator with tourist boat provider SeaTrek, said: “Boat operators are already starting to see the results of the mink project. We have changed our tourist routes this year, because in places where there used to be no bird populations to view; now we are seeing colonies of terns with chicks. It’s been an incredible boost to local tourism – and of course you can’t top the delight on visitors’ faces when they see our native birds thriving.”

The introduction of mink in Scotland has been directly connected to the fur farming industry established in the 1950s. In the Outer Hebrides fur farms on the Isle of Lewis went out of business in the 1960’s and feral populations quickly became established. Small scale control operations carried out by sporting estates and an attempt by SNH to prevent the mink population spreading south had limited effect. By 1999 breeding populations of mink were established on North Uist and Benbecula. To date, 2,198 mink have been caught, with only two non-breeding females and associated males caught in Lewis and Harris in the last 18 months.

This is a key project in the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy Route Map, which is making a real difference for the conservation of our priority species.

Contact information

Name
SNH Media
Email
snhmedia@snh.gov.uk

Notes to editors

The project involved the following numbers of core SNH staff:

  • 12 trappers: 2007-2012
  • 6 trappers:  2012-2014,
  • 3 trappers: 2014-18

Currently the project has one trapper only in Lewis and Harris; and one in the Uists for biosecurity and monitoring purposes.

All photos (c) SNH

Photo 1: Tern chick

Photos 2-3: Red throated diver

Photo 4: Lapwing

Photos 5-6: Arctic tern

Photo 7: American mink

Scottish Natural Heritage is Scotland's nature agency. We work to improve our natural environment in Scotland and inspire everyone to care more about it. So that all nature in Scotland - our key habitats and landscapes, all our green space and our native species - is maintained, enhanced and brings us benefits. It is the job of all of us to achieve a balance in the sensitive management of our natural world in order to maintain and enhance biodiversity. For more information, visit our website at www.nature.scot or follow us on Twitter at https://twitter.com/nature_scot

'S e Dualchas Nàdair na h-Alba buidheann nàdair na h-Alba. Tha sinn ag obair airson ar n-àrainneachd nàdarra ann an Alba a thoirt am feabhas agus a h-uile duine a bhrosnachadh gus barrachd cùraim a ghabhail dhi. Gus am bi an nàdar air fad ann an Alba – ar prìomh àrainnean is chruthan-tìre, ar n-àiteachan uaine gu lèir is ar gnèithean dùthchasach - air an gleidheadh, air an leasachadh 's a' toirt bhuannachdan dhuinn. 'S e an dleastanas a th' oirnn uile co-chothrom ann an stiùireadh faiceallach ar saoghail nàdarra a ruighinn airson bith-iomadachd a ghleidheadh 's a leasachadh. Airson an tuilleadh fios, tadhail air an làraich-lìn againn aig www.nature.scot/gaelic no lean air Twitter sinn aig https://twitter.com/nature_scot

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Mink project Tern chick

Mink project Tern chick

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Mink project Red throated diver-2

Mink project Red throated diver-2

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Mink project Red throated diver and chick

Mink project Red throated diver and chick

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Mink project lapwing-d10625

Mink project lapwing-d10625

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Mink project Arctic tern-2

Mink project Arctic tern-2

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Mink project Arctic tern in flight

Mink project Arctic tern in flight

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Mink project American mink

Mink project American mink

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