Mink hunting, which first began 15 years ago after mink escaped from fur farms and bred in the wild, is growing in popularity. Four new packs have been set up in the past two years. The Devon and Cornwall Mink Hounds, which have 80 paid-up subscribers, average 70 kills a season. They have 80 paying subscribers - some of whom used to take part in otter- hunting before it was banned - and many more followers.
The mink is skilled at swimming, burrowing and climbing. The hunters claim that it is a rapacious animal that clears whole stretches of river of large fish, birds and mammals, including otters, and the Ministry of Agriculture has declared it a pest. The League Against Cruel Sports counters that hunting with dogs is an inefficient and barbaric way to keep numbers down.
Dr Johnny Birks, a wildlife biologist, said: 'Both sides tend to twist the truth. While the mink does have an impact . . . it was less than we feared. The mink is a scapegoat. It was pesticides that decimated the otter, not mink.'