Islanders offered £20 to save hedgehogs from extermination

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The Independent Online

Hedgehogs facing government-controlled extermination on the Outer Hebrides could win a last-minute reprieve because of £20 bounties being offered to islanders for each animal snatched from death.

Hedgehogs facing government-controlled extermination on the Outer Hebrides could win a last-minute reprieve because of £20 bounties being offered to islanders for each animal snatched from death.

For the second year running animal rights campaigners are to launch a search and rescue operation on the islands of Uist in an attempt to relocate as many animals to the mainland as possible before Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) begins round two of its controversial cull of the prickly creatures on 5 April. Rescuers have upped their bounty payments from £5 to £20 per animal to try to persuade more residents to hand the hedgehogs over to them rather than the cullers.

Based in a tiny caravan, complete with a veterinary hospital, close to Benbecula airport, rescuers from the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and Hessilhead Wildlife Rescue Trust in Ayrshire will open for business until the end of May.

Last year islanders on Uist were offered £5 for each hedgehog, and some still handed them to the hunters - a clear indication of how the community has been split by the cull.

Hedgehogs are not native to the islands. They were introduced in the Seventies by a gardener who wanted to control slugs. Their population has since exploded to more than 5,000 spread throughout South Uist, Benbecula and North Uist.

The hogs have been feasting on the eggs of rare wading birds and other ground-nesting species which have until recently used the island as a safe breeding ground and refuge.

As a result of the decimation caused by the hedgehogs SNH decided that the most humane answer to the problem was a cull. They feared that relocating the animals to the mainland would cause unnecessary suffering. Their decision has upset animal welfare campaigners, including celebrities such as Joanna Lumley, Twiggy, Sting, Sir Paul McCartney and Sir Tim Rice.

Last year's rescue operation saved 156 hedgehogs, which were relocated to the mainland. Ross Minet, director of the Edinburgh-based Advocates for Animals, which has been leading the Uist Hedgehog Rescue, said: "Despite the gloom and doom predictions of SNH that the rescued hedgehogs would die slow and painful deaths we know of only one that has died - and that was attacked by a dog."

Following last year's cull, which was confined to North Uist, SNH, which killed just 66 animals in the face of more than 3,000 letters of protest, have decided to expand the extermination programme to the neighbouring island of Benbecula, followed by South Uist in 2005. By comparison the rescuers are scaling back their presence on the islands this year, preferring instead to rely on the local knowledge and humanity of the residents.

"We're hoping that £20 will be more of an incentive to the islanders to bring the hedgehogs," Mr Minet said. "It may seem an expensive bounty but it is a lot less than the cost of killing them."

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