Sunday, 6 November 2011

Mink patrol

It was supposed to be wall-to-wall sunshine this morning, were the Met Office to be believed, which of course they're not. But it was dry, so we set off anyway to circumnavigate the loch system and move one of the mink traps, which had washed out completely during the big rains recently. These are just footprint traps - covered boxes of clay which are supposed to appeal to a curious mink who will enter and leave their tell-tale signature paw marks.

We have no mink here in Assynt. Or not yet. The odd sighting has been made too close for comfort, however, and animals have been caught in Loch Broom. We don't want mink. They might look cute but they don't belong here and cause havoc to fresh water ecosystems.  This corner of Scotland is the last bastion of the water vole, the national population of which has reduced by 90% since mink arrived. See the Scottish Mink Initiative for more information, and thanks to them for the picture below.

We've been monitoring two mink traps for a year now and this is the time of year when young animals will be migrating and seeking their own territories, so we need to be vigilant.

One of the traps is a floating raft, and we check it most weeks. We have never seen a footprint in it, which at one level is really good news, though a water vole footprint or two or even a frog visiting would have been nice!

The trap that was swamped is a tunnel, dug into the bank. We rescued it and carried it through the lochside woods to a safer place close to a weir where the water flows down into a brackish loch. We dug a new pit for it right next to an otter run and filled it with fresh clay, then covered it up with bracken. An otter is theoretically too big to get in, but we frequently see young otters and they could presumably check it out.

Unfortunately the spot we chose is over on the other side of the weir from here, so that's going to mean a regular trip across it to check the trap. There's a big gap in the middle of the weir where you have to jump across, from one rickety gabian to another, over the water in full flow, so winter's walks will now include a weekly scary teeter and leap - good for the soul perhaps? I hope the water voles appreciate what we're doing for them!

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