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Last Updated: Friday, 23 May, 2003, 21:35 GMT 22:35 UK
Hedgehog cull comes to an end
Hedgehog
Hedgehogs have been eating rare birds' eggs
A controversial cull of thousands of hedgehogs in the Western Isles has come to a close for this year.

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) caught and killed 66 animals - little over a quarter of its target.

Animal rights groups said they had rescued 140 hedgehogs to be transferred to the mainland.

However, there are fresh hopes the killing can be avoided in future if agreement can be reached between the two sides.

The project, which employs six people, ended on Friday night because SNH does not want to leave orphaned young by killing their mothers.

SNH argued that the cull was necessary to preserve the eggs of rare birds.

The hedgehogs we've relocated have all been fine - just acting like completely normal hedgehogs
Lisa Frost,
St Tiggywinkles

The number of hedgehogs has risen to 5,000 since the first animals were introduced to the Uists in 1974 to help control slugs and snails in islanders' gardens.

Recent surveys have shown that the numbers of some species of wading birds dropped by nearly 60% in the last five years.

SNH said the hedgehogs were jeopardising the populations of some birds by preying on their eggs.

The organisation had hoped to catch and kill 200 hedgehogs this year on North Uist.

But animal rights campaigners said they had rescued 140, mainly on South Uist, and transferred the animals to the mainland.

SNH said it was not disappointed by the progress of the cull, which it said had helped better identify the locations of the main populations.

The organisation's George Anderson said the idea was to nip things in the bud in North Uist.

Cull talks

"The important thing is to get the ones that are there off and we are happy that we have made a fair dent in the North Uist population," said Mr Anderson.

"Elsewhere there are lots of hedgehogs on South Uist and Benbecula and that's where the rescuers have been taking them from."

The cull is due to resume next spring, but SNH said it was still willing to hand over the hedgehogs it caught to animal rescuers if it could be scientifically shown that they can survive re-homing.

But Lisa Frost, from wildlife hospital St Tiggywinkles, said the transportation operation has been a success.

"We've always felt that the whole SNH operation and the cull was completely unnecessary," she said.

"We've always said the hedgehogs could be relocated to the mainland and it is far cheaper the way we've done it and the hedgehogs we've relocated have all been fine - just acting like completely normal hedgehogs."

Uist Hedgehog Rescue said it was willing to re-open talks in a bid to reach agreement that would end the killing.




WATCH AND LISTEN
BBC Scotland's Kevin MacKenzie
"SNH maintain they are not disappointed"



SEE ALSO:
Cost of hedgehog cull defended
19 May 03  |  Scotland
Dogs help hedgehog cull
28 Apr 03  |  Scotland
Hedgehogs die in isles cull
09 Apr 03  |  Scotland
Sleeping hedgehogs defy cull
08 Apr 03  |  Scotland
Hedgehog cull attempt begins
07 Apr 03  |  Scotland


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