A GROWING tally of non-native mink have been taken from the Western Isles over the past week as work on one of the world's largest high-tech eradication programmes continues.
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has confirmed that 31 mink have been captured in traps strategically placed at locations throughout the islands over the past few days with an increasing total of 434 since Phase II got underway in February 2007.
The organisation is responsible for the Hebridean Mink Project (HMP) which has the aim of removing mink from the islands in order to protect biodiversity. The fur farm escapees are voracious predators and often take more than they can eat.
The next few months of the project are critical as traps which have been dug in over the past three months are used.
Iain MacLeod, the HMP manager, explained: "We hope to have completed the trap placement by the end of September with around 1000 traps left to dig in out of 7500. Most of these are in the north of Lewis which is a difficult bit of terrain full of peat hags and bog.
"The first two weeks of this period of trapping has been very successful so far with 53 animals having been caught and we expect this rate of capture to increase as we make our way west into the Loch Roag area – a renowned area for mink.
"It is surprising how quickly we can cover the area when there are 10-12 trappers checking 25-35 traps per day. The technological aspect of the project is important as we have made use of GPS technology and pocket PC's to locate traps and collect data."
The mink project issues a quarterly bulletin which has been emailed to all community councils in the Western Isles, giving a basic progress report on the project.
If you would like to receive this quarterly bulletin then come along to the Westside Agricultural Show this Friday (1 August) and you will be added to the mailing list.
A large number of people took this opportunity at the Lochs Show, Balallan, at which there were a selection of video clips showing mink behaviour at its best.
Mr MacLeod added: "We will also be giving GPS tutorials so if you own a GPS that you can't work out how to use, bring it along and the trappers will get you 'lost and found'. We are always keen to hear about mink sightings so come along and we will give advice and help were we can.
"And also – please if you come across one of our traps, leave it, as a caged mink will not welcome any fingers inside the cage. Most importantly never open a closed trap or it may catch an animal in an area which is not being worked by the trappers and result in a cruel death for the mink or another animal. The HMP takes the issue of animal welfare very seriously and has the humane control of the mink at its heart."