Waterlife Recovery East, the partnership working to protect vulnerable water wildlife in East Anglia, welcomed their latest recruit this month – River, the 18-month-old Labrador retriever. River has been trained by owner Stephen Mace to locate the scent of American Mink, a non-native species that predates cherished British river creatures such as water voles, moorhen chicks and kingfishers.  

River uses her sensitive nose to detect the smell of mink along a river or wetlands. Her first outing, on the River Wensum in Bintree, saw River successfully find two mink on the banks of the Wensum. She is helping Waterlife Recovery East to monitor the activities of these predators, so that they can be humanely trapped in rafts that float on the river. 

Stephen Mace, Lead Project Officer at the Norfolk Rivers Trust said: “River has been trained to locate mink scent since she was just 10-weeks old. As a puppy, we practiced only for a few minutes a day, and she would receive a treat reward for successfully sniffing out the mink. I’m proud that she has now progressed onto more difficult training, including picking out mink alongside other smells like stoat and squirrel, and receives her favourite ball as a reward. River and I are both learning a lot about this specialist training, as she is the first dog that I have ever trained to detect mink.”  

Dr Vince Lea, Head of Wildlife Monitoring at the Countryside Restoration Trust, said: “Eradicating American Mink from the British countryside is a challenging but important task, and River will be at the heart of this. Mink are a non-native species and excellent hunters, so the increase in populations has caused a serious decline in British river creatures. They are also hard to find, so River is a very welcome addition to the team in helping us to build a better picture of their activities and movements. Only by removing mink completely can we restore life on our rivers to the well-balanced and biodiverse ecosystem it once was.” 

About Waterlife Recovery East 

Waterlife Recovery East was started in 2018 when partners from the long running East Anglian Mink and Water Vole Group joined with others from the fields of Wildlife Conservation, Water Management, Game Shooting and Fishing. All share the goal of bringing life back to the waterways and wetlands of East Anglia, through the removal of one highly damaging invasive, non-native species: the American MinkNeovison vison. The project aims for the humane removal of mink from a large part of East Anglia, which would also provide a meaningful test of the feasibility, cost and duration of a GB-wide eradication campaign. Visit the website for more information.