Campers put on mink alert

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The Independent Online
THOUSANDS OF nervous campers will descend on the New Forest this Bank Holiday weekend, tentatively pitching their tents - and keeping a keen eye on the undergrowth for any sign of marauding mink.

It is three weeks since 6,000 unsuspecting mink were released by animal rights campaigners into the Hampshire countryside and, since then, reports have emerged almost daily of confrontations between man and Mustela lutreola.

This weekend is one of the most popular for visits to the New Forest, and the district council has received hundreds of calls from campers asking for advice on the risk of a confrontation with the creatures. Forestry Commission wardens have been instructed to warn people to be careful. Visitors have also been advised to keep their food in a locked metal box above ground level.

Around 1,000 mink are still at large, but they have now spread out over a 40-mile radius from Crow Hill Farm, near Ringwood. Each sighting is faithfully recorded on a large map pinned to the wall of the council's mink emergency room and, as the days go by, the animals spread further into the 144-square-mile forest.

During the first few days after their escape, the animals were no match for a vengeful public, and many of them were shot, battered with shovels and squashed by watering cans. The manager of a gun shop in Ringwood said he had sold 25,000 air pellets in two days.

But Sharon Plumridge, deputy emergency planning officer for the council, said although they were still setting traps, the number of sightings reported to the hotline was slowing down.

"We are still catching them, but the problem is that we can't tell between already wild ones and the ones that were released, so it's possible that we've sent some of the wild ones to the fur farm," said Ms Plumridge. "It seems that they are travelling quite long distances and perhaps using the rivers. We will keep setting traps as long as people keep calling in with sightings."

The Forestry Commission said it was expecting thousands of people at its 12 campsites.

"There are already wild mink, ponies and snakes there and campers need to pay attention," said a spokesman. "We have told wardens to brief people, but the countryside is a hazardous place and they should be prepared anyway."

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