Rural Britons are on a crusade against a fierce predator of domestic poultry, pets, and even other wildlife - the mink.
The furry animals, prized for their luxurious coats, have been escaping from their farms and multiplying without restraint. Since they have no natural predator, man is the only means of keeping their numbers down. Many British farmers have struck back with mink trapping (especially along the riverbanks) and mink hunts.
''Over the years some animals were deliberately released by disenchanted owners and by vandals,'' said a spokesman from the Ministry of Agriculture. ''Inadequate arrangements also led to escapes.''
Mink present a special problem in the Lake District in northern England, with its many freshwater lakes and streams.
John Lancaster, the local representative of the National Union of Farmers, said, ''Mink are multiplying tremendously, and if there is not a concerted effort, it will reach epidemic proportions. I do not think people realize that they are becoming a major problem, but some farmers have caught between 10 and 20, and one has caught 90, just from one watercourse.''
The ministry spokesman commented: ''Since 1970 our policy has been to encourage occupiers to control mink. We lend out traps, show people how to build them, and advise them on where to put them.''
First brought to Europe from North America in the 1920s, the mink came to Britain in 1929 for breeding on farms. By the late 1950s mink were living and breeding in the wild in many parts of Britain, and in 1962 an order was made under the Destructive Imported Animals Act of 1932, prohibiting the importation and keeping of mink, except under license.Regulations were also made prescribing the way mink must be kept in order to prevent their escape from captivity. There was a drastic reduction in the number of mink farms and the risk of mink escaping, but ''accidental escapes'' still occur.
Since its own trapping campaign ended in 1979, the ministry has no record of the numbers of mink killed. But while the campaign was on, between 10,000 and 12 ,000 were killed each year, mainly by trapping.
The ministry recommends trapping as the most effective way of reducing their numbers. This has been borne out by experience in the Lake District this August.
Conservationists feel trapping is the most efficient and humane form of control.