Public enemy No 1? Outcry as 5,000 hedgehogs are sentenced to death

Conservationists ordered Britain's first mass extermination of hedgehogs yesterday, despite opposition from animal welfare groups.

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) gave permission for the cull of up to 5,000 hedgehogs on the islands of North Uist, South Uist and Benbecula to protect native sea birds.

Hedgehogs were introduced in 1974 by a resident to control garden pests. But a dangerously large population is threatening internationally important bird breeding grounds, says the SNH.

The creatures prey on the eggs of ground-nesting birds and have been blamed for jeopardising the populations of dunlin, redshank, snipe, lapwings and oyster-catchers. The numbers of some species dropped by nearly 60 per cent in the last five years.

Opponents of the cull were disappointed. Ross Minet, of Advocates for Animals, said: "The animals should be humanely removed and taken to homes on the mainland."