Countryside Management students have been searching high and low for a stealthy intruder which is threatening smaller species on their rural campus and making Glynllifon farm its favourite stomping ground.
As part of the Healthy Rivers Project, the Glynllifon students have been surveying Afon Llifon, which runs through the agriculture site, searching for signs of the elusive American mink. Using clay pads in lightweight, plastic rafts, the students have succeeded in getting mink footprints, confirming their continuous presence on the farm. They have also started using cameras to monitor the wildlife on the estate, getting a better picture of how the intruder's presence is affecting the other creatures on the farm.
The American mink (or just 'mink') escaped from fur farms in the 1950s and 1960s and now breeds across most of the country. An active predator, the mink will feed on anything it is big enough to catch, including ground-nesting seabirds and our native water voles. Inhabitants of the Glynllifon estate for many years, the water voles are now under threat of extinction as a direct result of persistent attacks from the intruding species.
Mink are good swimmers and females are small enough to enter the water-line burrows of water voles and take their young. The water vole is a much-loved British mammal better known as 'Ratty' in the children's classic The Wind in the Willows. Unfortunately, the future of this charming riverside creature is in peril; the water vole needs urgent help to survive in the UK. Water voles are a vital part of river ecosystems, and their burrowing, feeding, and movements help to create conditions for other animals and plants to thrive - a bit like beavers do, but on a much smaller scale.
Hefin Hughes is a lecturer in land-based industries in Glynllifon, and has been trying to contain the mink population at the estate since he started 11 years ago. He said:
We have been teaching the students about the balance of wildlife that exists in the Glynllifon estate and in the rest of the UK. One change in circumstances, for example an increase in the mink population, can tip the balance completely. The mink's presence poses all sorts of problems for our natural spaces, so we're showing the students different methods of managing the land and making sure our native species are able to thrive.
The search for the mink continues!
If you would like to learn more about the Countryside Management courses available at Grŵp Llandrillo Menai, visit www.gllm.ac.uk. Application for September starts are now open.