I think that it would be better if I concentrated on mink.
The study that was submitted to the Burns inquiry by Professor Macdonald and other scientists showed that, in the Thames catchment area in 1990, mink were uncommon and water voles were found on about three quarters of the sites that they had previously occupied. However, by 1995, only five years later, there had been a rapid increase in mink numbers, along with a catastrophic decline in the water vole population. The scientists pointed out that there were no sites in that catchment area where the two species co-existed.
I accept the Burns report's conclusion that far fewer mink are killed by hunting than by shooting or trapping, but the report also found that hunting mink with hounds could have a significant impact on local mink populations. Before we outlaw mink hunting, we should reflect—as Burns advised us to do with regard to all species—on the cruelty of hunting compared with other methods of control.
In his research report that is published on the CD-Rom accompanying the Burns report, Professor Macdonald commented that:
Trapping is the main method of mink control in Britain, and is widely recommended.
He added that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food recommended trapping, and stated:
Traps must be checked daily, ideally first thing in the morning. Live-caught mink must be killed, as it is illegal to release them back into the wild.
For humane killing, the relevant authorities recommend using a rifle, shot-pistol, or shotgun. However, Professor Macdonald also noted that,
in practice it is not always easy to shoot a small, moving, target within a cage, and some practitioners simply drown the animals; this is particularly cruel.
Even if live traps were inspected every day, a wild animal could be caged for up to 24 hours. Therefore, in considering the relative cruelty of different methods of control, it is necessary to weigh carefully whether hunting mink with hounds is less humane than a greater use of traps—or, possibly, snares—which involve, at best, the incarceration of wild mammals in small boxes where they become very distressed over many hours before finally being dispatched by an uncertain method. Between 400 and 1,400 mink are killed each year by hunting with hounds. On its own, that is not sufficient as a means of control, but it does contribute significantly to controlling this pest species.