CONSERVATIONISTS are asking animal lovers to help them track the spread of a fierce predator which could threaten the future of some of Wigan’s rarest wildlife.
The population of American mink, a carnivore related to creatures such as otters and weasels, is thought to have risen significantly in the borough, and nature experts are now urgently looking to assess their impact on Wigan’s green spaces.
The animals have been spotted across a large swathe of the borough, with sightings recorded as far apart as Wigan Flashes and Pennington Flash in Leigh.
Their rising numbers are causing concern as they live in wetlands, one of the region’s most delicate and threatened habitats, and have no natural predators in Britain.
A group of conservationists representing organisations including Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust (WLCT), the Lancashire Wildlife Trust and the Environment Agency, will meet this week to discuss if Wigan’s mink population is a long-term threat to wildlife reserves.
And it is asking people to help them find out more about the creatures by recording sightings on the website of the Leigh Ornithological Society (LOS).
WLCT biodiversity manager Graham Workman said: “We’ve had a photo sent in to us of a group of 14 mink all seen together, and we want the public to help us assess the population.
“They predate ground nesting species, such as ducks and moorhens. Where the mink are from, in North America, birds know where nesting sites are the mink can’t reach, but in this part of the world they don’t expect predators and are easy prey.
“They wander about quite a lot so it’s possible all the sightings could be a single group traversing across the borough.
“We need to find out how big the population is so we can assess if there’s anything humane we need to do to reduce the impact they are having on wildlife.”
Mink are not native to the UK but were introduced to fur farms and some animals escaped, with the population further increasing after animal rights activists violently broke open farms and freed the mink from their cages.
They are similar in size and shape to ferrets, but are dark brown with a small white patch under the chin, and have a slightly bushy tail.
They are aggressive predators whose likely prey includes the rare water vole, and their voracious feeding is causing particular concern after a year when poor weather meant many birds could not raise young as their nests were flooded.
Anyone who sees a mink should enter their sightings at www.leighos.org.uk