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Wednesday, 11 December, 2002, 13:48 GMT
Decision due on hedgehog cull
Hedgehog
There are some 5,000 hedgehogs on the islands
Scientists are recommending the go-ahead for a humane cull of hedgehogs who are being blamed for the death of birds in the Western Isles.

The move is aimed at saving the declining population of rare breeding waders on North Uist, South Uist and Benbecula.

The hedgehogs have been found to be responsible for a significant decline in the breeding of waders because they eat the birds' eggs.

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), which will consider the proposal next week, has received more than 1000 letters of protest, the majority of which have come from England.

It has emerged that only two objections came from the Western Isles.

South Uist
Hedgehogs were introduced in 1974
The extermination was proposed five months ago, but after a public outcry the conservation agency ordered a stay of execution while it looked into the feasibility of moving hedgehogs off the islands.

A report commissioned by SNH stated: "Lethal control would lead to the death of all captured hedgehogs but levels of suffering per death would be lower than indirect mortality caused by translocation or indefinite captivity."

SNH is now to consider three options put forward by its Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC), which could see a total cull avoided.

The SAC has recommended a "humane lethal control of the hedgehog population should be adopted" after finding fencing, relocation and sterilisation not to be viable.

The proposal would reduce the number of hedgehogs to a level that allows the wader population to fully recover.

However the two other options are based on a cull in North Uist to contain the problem, while animals are moved from South Uist to the mainland.

Population study

A study published in the scientific Journal of Applied Ecology suggested that hedgehogs were having a devastating impact on seabirds in the Outer Hebrides.

An experiment carried out on South Uist found that wading birds like the dunlin, lapwing, redshank and snipe had a better chance of breeding successfully if hedgehogs were excluded from certain areas.

Various methods of managing the hedgehog population have been considered by SNH.

These included sterilisation and contraception, or capturing the animals and moving them to the mainland.

See also:

11 Jul 02 | Scotland
10 Jul 02 | Scotland
09 Jul 02 | Scotland
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