New campaign to save island hedgehogs

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The Independent Online

The battle over the fate of Scotland's island hedgehogs restarts today when Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) begins its annual cull of the mammals in the Western Isles.

The battle over the fate of Scotland's island hedgehogs restarts today when Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) begins its annual cull of the mammals in the Western Isles.

Animal rights campaigners, backed by celebrities, are again staging a search-and-rescue operation, offering £20 a hedgehog to islanders in an attempt to move as many animals to the mainland as possible.

Rescuers from the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and Hessilhead Wildlife Rescue Trust in Ayrshire, who are based in a caravan close to Benbecula airport that contains a veterinary hospital, had two of the animals in custody by Friday.

Hedgehogs, which have no natural predators, were introduced to the islands in the 1970s by a gardener to control slugs. Their population has exploded to more than 5,000, on South Uist, Benbecula and North Uist.

They eat the eggs of rare wading birds and other ground-nesting species on the island. SNH feared that moving hedgehogs to the mainland would cause unnecessary suffering. That upset animal welfare campaigners including Joanna Lumley, Twiggy, Sting, Sir Paul McCartney and Sir Tim Rice.

SNH made the first cull on North Uist in 2003, killing 66 hedgehogs. In 2004, 13 animals were culled on North Uist and 240 on Benbecula. They are captured at night by use of spotlamps, anaesthetised, then given lethal injections.

The project spokesman said: "The methods have been put together using the best veterinary advice and training available. [We] ensure rigorous welfare standards, and are open to the scrutiny of the SSPCA."

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