Above: Over the past 50 years, there have been huge losses of tern colonies, including Arctic (pictured), common and little, due to established populations of predatory non-native American mink. Photo: SNH

 

A 17-YEAR MINK eradication project has finally come to fruition after breeding birds have started to return to the Outer Hebrides.

The Hebridean Mink Project, run by Scottish National Heritage (SNH), has been working since 2001 to eradicate non-native American mink from the area to protect internationally important populations of ground-nesting birds.

To date, 2,198 mink have been caught, but only two non-breeding females and associated males have been taken in Lewis and Harris over the past 18 months.

Conservationists hope that once-abundant bird species including terns, black-headed gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus), black-throated (Gavia arctica) and red-throated diver (G. stellata), dunlin, plovers, dipper and teal, will re-establish successful breeding populations in the Outer Hebrides in the next few years.

Initial signs have been positive, with colonies of terns with chicks reported by local people and businesses.

David Maclennan, SNH area manager for Argyll and the Outer Hebrides said: “American mink have been predating on ground-nesting birds here for more than 50 years. A lot of the impact has taken place unseen – so it isn’t possible to be precise about numbers.

“We have chosen to use Arctic tern [Sterna paradisaea], common tern [S. hirundo] and little tern [Sternula albifrons] as indicators, as they nest in colonies and suffer from mink predation.”

American mink were introduced to the Isle of Lewis in the 1950s as part of the fur farming industry. When fur farms went out of business in the 1960s, a number of mink escaped and established feral populations. By 1999, breeding populations had reached the islands of North Uist and Benbecula.

Mr Maclennan added: “Currently, a survey of terns is taking place throughout the islands – the first whole island survey since Seabird 2000. Initial findings are showing numbers of new tern colonies both inland and on the coast.

“The other good news is that the colonies are producing good numbers of chicks – all clear evidence that the impact of predation by mink has been removed.”

For more on the work of SNH, visit: www.nature.scot

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