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Hedgehog cull starts amid outcry from rights groups

Time has officially run out for the hedgehogs of North Uist. A massive cull to eliminate 5,000 of the predators got under way at 9pm last night despite anger from animal welfare groups.

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) organised the cull hoping to protect colonies of wading birds in the area. Hedgehogs eating snipe, lapwing and redshank eggs are blamed for halving numbers on the island over the last 10 years.

Despite opposition from campaigning groups, the SNH pressed ahead with the £90,000 "conservation" measure, which aims to start by killing 200 of the animals by lethal injection for seven weeks this spring. The government agency spent much of yesterday laying traps and making final preparations. It said the move has come after receiving widespread support from the local community.

A statement issued last night by the SNH said: "Urgent action is needed to protect the internationally important native birds of the islands. The hedgehogs are not native to the islands and have been eating huge numbers of birds eggs."

It is estimated that of the 5,000 hedgehogs that live on the islands of South Uist, Benbecula and North Uist, only a few hundred live on North Uist.

The Uist Hedgehog Rescue group and a coalition of animal welfare groups said an effort was being made to move animals to the mainland.