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Wild Wales: American assassin; How the mink is killing off our wildlife.

Byline: By ALUN PRICHARD

HE battle to protect our native species against genocidal creatures introduced to our shores is constantly beingfought on many fronts. In our rivers the war against American crayfish is almost lost. In our harbours microscopic creatures from the other side of the Atlantic are destroying the natural balance. In our woodlands the American grey squirrel is conquering the British red.

This fight was highlighted in last week's column by the Anglesey Red Squirrel Project's continued attempts to capture the last 300 greys on the island to protect the small red squirrel population.

Conservationists lay baited cages to catch the greys, and on the outskirts of Benllech this month one trap caught a very different invader with the power to wipe out an entire species in Wales.

Because, by sheer chance, the cage had caught an American mink, an efficient predator with an insatiable instict to kill and who's responsible for the decline in many bird species and the extinction in many areas of the water vole.

Hugh Knott, of Menter MOn, who run the Anglesey Red Squirrel Project and many other conservation projects on the island, says: "Since the first American mink escaped from fur farms and bred in the wild in the 1950s, they have thrived in the British countryside where they have become the main factor in the decline of the water vole. Over the last 30 years as mink numbers have grown the water vole population has declined by over 90%."

These escaped mink and those deliberately released from fur farms by misguided animal rights activists found the water vole easy prey. The vole's hole, a defence from British predators, is not safe from mink as they can crawl into them and kill at will - which they do regardless of hunger.

"Apart from the report of a mink washed up on the shore at Rhosneigr a few years ago, which could well have come from the mainland, we had not seen mink on the island," says Knott.

"So the capture of this female in Benllech, and the discovery of another that had been run-over near Beaumaris a couple of months ago, represents the first sightings and confirmation they have arrived on Anglesey."

Whereas the rest of Wales has had to contend with the mink for years, the island had never been colonised.

"In vast areas of Wales where mink thrive, the water vole has become extinct," says Knott.

"Anglesey remains one of the most important sites for water voles. But if mink are allowed to settle here they could wipe them out very quickly.

"The American mink is as big a threat as the grey squirrel. If we ignore the problem, water voles will soon be extinct here
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Nov 26, 2005
Words:455
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