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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 October, 2003, 08:47 GMT
Hedgehog cull 'had support'
Hedgehog
Hedgehogs were introduced to the Western Isles in the 70s
A majority of people in Scotland supported the cull of hedgehogs in the Western Isles, independent research has suggested.

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) caught and killed 66 animals on North Uist over the summer as part of efforts to protect ground-nesting birds.

It was criticised for its policy by animal welfare groups, who rescued 140 hedgehogs to be transferred to the mainland.

Campaigner Ross Minett, of Advocates for Animals, said he was "absolutely astonished" by the new survey's findings.

SNH spokesman George Anderson admitted he was "slightly surprised".

The study on public attitudes to wildlife management was carried out by the Scottish Economic Policy Network, based in Scotland's 12 universities.

Garden pests

It also suggested that many people would be willing to pay for reintroducing the beaver to Scotland and saving the capercaillie.

SNH sparked controversy when it announced its plans to cull up hedgehogs in the Western Isles.

The hedgehog population on the Western Isles has grown to 5,000 since a handful were introduced 30 years ago to keep down garden pests.

Scientific evidence suggested that the animals pose a threat to ground-nesting birds by eating their eggs.

They realised that it has to be done, that it is being done for a good cause
Dr Douglas McMillan
Aberdeen University
More than 75% of those questioned in the new research favoured the humane culling of mink and hedgehogs in the Western Isles, while only 18% supported returning hedgehogs to the mainland.

Only 80 people were questioned but researchers said it was an in-depth exercise with a good cross-section of people.

Dr Douglas McMillan, who is based at Aberdeen University, said people were pragmatic about the need for a cull.

"They realised that it has to be done, that it is being done for a good cause.

"If it is done properly, humanely and with good scientific reasoning then they feel that these exercises are well worth doing," he said.

Ross Minett
These findings seem to go against everything that we would expect and everything that we experienced
Ross Minett
Advocates for Animals
Reacting to the findings, Mr Anderson said: "I think we were slightly surprised but I think a lot of people did assume that the world was against us on this.

"We never thought that. We did not take the decision for popularity reasons, we took the decision because it was right."

However, Mr Minett said: "These findings seem to go against everything that we would expect and everything that we experienced, the tremendous public support that we found for our proposals to relocate the hedgehogs back on the mainland."

He thought that a lot of the public perception had been "biased" by claims that it would be cruel to move the animals.

The majority of those questioned in the survey also said that they wanted to see the return of the beaver.

On average, each household was prepared to pay 24 a year for the next decade to fund such a project.

Saving the capercaillie proved the most popular conservation project.


WATCH AND LISTEN
BBC Scotland's Louise Batchelor
"Animal welfare groups tried to save the animals"



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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