The mink is a medium-sized member of the mustelid family, alongside stoats, weasels, ferrets, badgers and otters. All these species have prominent scent glands and the smell is often pungent.
The first American mink were imported into Britain in 1929 for fur farming and all wild mink in Britain today are descendants of escapees or illegal releases.
Most river systems are now occupied by mink, where they have had a devastating impact on local fauna, in particular the water vole, whose numbers have suffered catastrophic decline.
Their natural wild colouring is a glossy dark brown, appearing almost black in some light. Mink spend up to 80% of their time in their dens, sleeping, grooming and eating food they have carried home. Frequently found near water, they are often mistaken for otters, although mink are in fact considerably smaller. They are highly effective predators and, given the opportunity, will kill far more than they can carry away and eat. They are major predators of much of our native wildlife and should be controlled at every opportunity. The most effective way is a well-placed mink trap. This is a live-catch trap, essential to ensure that non-target species, such as the threatened water vole can be safely released.
Mink are rarely seen, but there are signs to indicate you have a mink problem
- Mammals and birds are killed by a bite on the back of the head or neck and fish by a bite between the head and dorsal fin.
- Droppings are 6-9cm long, sausage shaped and twisted, pointed at the ends. They often show evidence of fish scales, fur and feather and have a strong unpleasant smell. (Otter scat has a much sweeter smell and tends to be composed purely of fish remains)
- Footprints are seen in sand and mud-banks close to the water. They consist of a large pad around which are five clawed toes, although sometimes only four show. Footprints are often indistinguishable from those of the ferret.
- Fortunately, mink are relatively easy to trap and so can be a DIY task.
- However, if you feel you will have difficulty killing the mink, it's better to call in professional help.
Mink have one weakness - they cannot resist exploring tunnels and that enables us to control them. The most effective way of controlling mink is trapping:
- Live Capture Cage Traps are based on a tunnel system where the mink enters the tunnel to take a bait, or out of curiosity and the trap springs, closing the doors and containing the animal alive. This has important advantages over a lethal trap because a non-target capture, like a moorhen, water vole or otter can be released unharmed.
Here is how to catch that mink:
- First, make sure that the animal you are targeting is a mink, and not an otter. The otter is a European Protected Species and is also fully protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
- Is it a mink or an otter?
- Mink - glossy brown fur that looks almost black with markings on the chin and throat that look bright white and vary between individuals; Otter - light brown coat, often lighter on the underside
- Mink - short fluffy tails; Otter - large tails with a broad, flat base
- Mink - about the size of a ferret with a pointed muzzle; Otter - far larger, broad muzzle similar to a dog and a large flattened head
- Mink - swim with head and body high out of the water; Otter - swims with only the head and part of the tail visible
- Using cage traps in conjunction with mink rafts ensures maximum efficiency and mink capture rates.
Locating the Trap:
- Place the trap alongside a watercourse, ditch or pond, on an island or beside fallen waterside trees, anywhere that looks as if it might be an interesting place for a mink to explore.
- Don't place traps in the open where people can see them, where livestock can interfere with them or more than a metre or so from the waters edge. Equally don't place trap in the water where it could be submerged.
When to trap:
- Best between January and March as this effectively removes a breeding population.
- From August to November to catch dispersing family individuals.
- No need to have a trap out continuously if you use the mink raft, as the footprints left on the clay base will indicate when there is a mink in the area, then you just set the trap accordingly.
- If you have mink on your water system, you should monitor with the mink raft regularly as there is always likely to be re-infestation on an annual basis as other mink look for new territories.
Setting the Trap:
- Mink are inquisitive and love to investigate new and interesting holes so locate the trap where you are able to create an interesting experience for the mink.
- Make sure the trap is located above any potential rise in water level.
- Cover the trap with grasses, leaves, sticks or turf. Not only will that make the tunnel interesting, but any trapped animal will be able to pull grass and turf into the trap to make a warm bed.
- Make sure the trap is stable and won't rock as the animal enters. Mink will not enter an unstable trap.
- A well located and set trap will not need bait, but if you want to try bait, the best is a section of eel or you could use any fish or even a fishy cat food.
Checking the Trap:
- It is a legal requirement to check daily, and a moral responsibility to check the trap twice daily, morning and evening.
- If you know you are not going to be able to check it the next day, then just deactivate the trap for the duration.
- If you catch a mink, remember that it is illegal to release it elsewhere, you must dispatch it.
Dispatching the mink:
- The only acceptable way to dispatch a trapped mink is to kill it with a clean shot through the head.
- The best weapon to achieve this clean kill is a .22 calibre rimfire rifle. A shotgun or a powerful air rifle are also suitable for dispatching a mink.
- Before trapping commences make sure you have a suitable means of dispatch organised.
- The body should be buried soon after in a suitable location.
If you don't have a suitable weapon to dispatch the mink, make an arrangement to take the animal to a local gamekeeper for dispatch. Cover the cage with sacking during transport in order to minimise stress to the animal.
- Mink have long sinuous bodies, short legs and a moderately bushy tail.
- Head is bluntly pointed with small round ears.
- Males are 50-70cm long and the females are slightly smaller.
- Fur is chocolate brown but appears black.
- Usually has a white patch on chin, chest and belly.
- Mating takes place between February and April.
- Up to six young are born 30 days later.
- Kids are born deaf, blind and hairless but grow very quickly and are weaned at eight weeks old.
- They remain with their mother throughout the summer but move away to find their own territories in the autumn.
- All mink originate from animals brought over here in the 1950's in order to farm them for their fur.
- Many mink escaped from the farms, and many more were released by animal rights activists.
- The unintended consequence of these escapes and releases has been devastating for some groups of our native fauna.
- Mink are closely associated with water, and they even have slightly webbed feet.
- They are equally able to catch fish, eels and crayfish underwater as they are able to climb trees to take fledgling birds.
- They can be seen in remote countryside and in water courses running through major cities.
- They display little fear of man, and are supremely confident in their abilities to defend themselves.
- being strong swimmers they have invaded many off-shore islands and present a serious threat to some seabird breeding colonies.
- Mink are solitary, territorial animals; males and females each select their own territory which they defend vigorously against other mink.
- Within its territory a mink will have several dens, usually in the roots of riverside trees, boulders or rabbit burrows.
- Although mainly nocturnal, mink are often seen during the day.
- Mink are fast, agile carnivores and will eat anything they can catch and kill. Their diet is made up of fish, birds, rabbits, rats, mice, eels and crayfish.
- They will kill poultry, and like the fox, they will not stop killing until every bird in the pen is dead.
- Mink are a very serious threat to native British wildlife, particularly ground nesting birds and water voles which they have driven to extinction in many areas of the country.
Mink are small, strong, determined, fearless and resourceful. Keeping them out of poultry houses and game pens can be a challenge.
- Mink mainly use water courses, ditches and drains as their network for travelling around their territories.
- They are inquisitive and can't resist investigating tunnels; this provides us with an opportunity to control them.
- Preventing entry is focused on preventing mink from colonising a particular territory through trapping the animals as they travel through their territory.
- In order to prevent mink entering poultry housing, it is necessary to use netting to completely enclose the run. It should be a maximum mesh size of 26mm and the netting should be dug 30cm into the ground and lapped out. Ensure there are no weaknesses in the timber structure or potential access holes. Mink are good climbers and will quickly exploit any construction weakness.