Minister helps tackle alien invasion

13 May 2019

Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment Mairi Gougeon has marked National Invasive Species Week (13-17 May) by joining volunteer efforts to tackle American mink and giant hogweed.

Ms Gougeon was welcomed by the Scottish Invasive Species Initiative (SISI) at the River Esk near Brechin to find out more about the issues and impacts of invasive non-native species and what action is being taken to control them.

Last year 342 volunteers undertook invasive plant control as part of the project, with 736km of giant hogweed treated, while 195 volunteers helped to monitor mink rafts.

Mink – an invasive non-native species - prey on ground nesting birds, fish, and native mammals such as water voles. The impact of American mink on water voles has been catastrophic, with an 88% decline in water vole populations in Great Britain during the 1990s.  With mink under control, water voles are starting to recolonise areas such as some of the Angus Glens.  

The sap of giant hogweed is toxic; causing sometimes severe burns and blisters to areas of skin on exposure to light. The mature plant can reach heights of up to 5m and produces large leaves which prevent light from reaching native vegetation underneath. The estimated total annual costs of invasive non-native species to Scotland is more than £250 million.

Ms Gougeon met with SISI project staff and volunteers and representatives from the Finavon Castle Water - which lies within her constituency as an MSP – before donning a protective suit to get stuck into treating giant hogweed on site.

Ms Gougeon said: “I’ve been really impressed with Scottish Invasive Species Initiative’s approach and investment in this project at a community level - recruiting, training and equipping volunteers and working directly with community groups and landowners locally.

“Invasive species are one of the greatest threats to the beauty and variety of our nature, and it’s good news that these people and groups will be able continue the long-term work of invasive species management and control after the current four-year project ends.”

Ross Murphy, a regular SISI volunteer, said: “I have been volunteering with the initiative almost since it started in my area in 2018 - it has been great for me. I’ve really enjoyed getting back in touch with nature, making new friends, exploring new places and with the skills and qualifications I have gained I plan to go into this sector as a career."

The Minister also set up a mink monitoring raft with assistance from Mark Purrmann-Charles, SISI  Project Officer with the Esk Fisheries Board, and landowner Tony Andrews, which is being monitored on behalf of the project at Finavon. The rafts detect the presence of the invasive American mink by recording their tell-tale footprints on a clay pad - once detected in the area the mink can be trapped and removed.

Mr Andrews said:  “We’ve been happy to work in partnership with the Scottish Invasive Species Initiative since it began last year. Our river keeper Iain MacMaster was trained through the project and we’ve been working alongside local officer Mark and his volunteers to together control the invasive plants and American mink along the river here.”

The NatureScot Project Manager for the Scottish Invasive Species Initiative, Callum Sinclair, emphasised the importance of raising awareness of invasive species.

He said: “We will be running several events over the next week with Scottish invasive Species Initiative river and fishery trust and board partners across the north of Scotland during Invasive Species Week.  These will raise awareness of problem plants, their impacts and what people can do to help and, better still, provide lots of opportunities to get involved and follow the Minister’s example and get hands on and do some volunteering with us.

 “Invasive species pose a great threat to our valuable and iconic local nature and so NatureScot is pleased to be able to coordinate this project to make a real difference to invasive species management control with the people of Scotland for the people of Scotland.  The Scottish Invasive Species Initiative is showing that this work can be done in genuine partnership between agencies, local organisations, community groups and volunteers.  For example, in our first year of activity the volunteer effort harnessed was the equivalent to 11 full time staff working on the project!”

The Scottish Invasive Species Initiative (SISI) is a four-year partnership project, led by NatureScot, with funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and working with many fisheries trusts and boards.  SISI is working throughout northern Scotland from the Tay catchment in the south to the remote catchments of North West Sutherland.

SISI is the largest invasive species control project in the UK, working across some 29,500km2 (almost one third) of Scotland.  It is controlling a suite of invasive non-native plants (Giant hogweed, Himalayan balsam, Japanese knotweed and American skunk cabbage) and the predatory American mink.  Work at that scale is challenging and so SISI is working with local community partners and volunteers to make achieve its goals.

To find out more about the Scottish Invasive Species Initiative, volunteering with the project and events on during Invasive Species Week, visit, follow on social media or contact the team on [email protected]


Scottish Invasive Species Initiative

[email protected]