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Hedgehog clearance gathering pace in Hebrides

29/04/2009 14:47:51
uk/uk_wildlife/Hedgehog_eating_lapwing_eggs

Hedgehog eating lapwing eggs. Credit SNH.

Isles' hedgehog clean-up gathers pace

April 2009. Work to clear the Uists of non-native hedgehogs will continue up to mid-May following a successful recruitment drive. It saw Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) receive almost 100 applicants for spring fieldworkers' posts, a response described by the organisation as ‘absolutely fantastic'.

86 hedgehogs removed
Twenty three people are currently engaged in live-trapping around most of Benbecula and a limited amount of North Uist. To date, 86 hedgehogs have been trapped and will be translocated before their eventual release on the mainland.

This is less than half of those caught last year despite an increase in effort - a clear indicator that continuing clearance work is having the desired effect.

Introduced onto the islands in 1970s
Hedgehogs were introduced to the islands during the 1970s and cause major problems for native ground nesting wader birds by eating their eggs.

Major site for ground nesting waders
The Uists support some of the most important populations of ground nesting waders including dunlin, ringed plover, redshank, snipe, lapwing and oystercatcher in Europe. Dunlin and ringed plover nest at the highest densities recorded anywhere in the world.

Under the scheme run by the Uist Wader Project (UWP), hedgehogs are live trapped before being transferred to Uist Hedgehog Rescue (UHR). Animals are then transferred to the mainland.

David Maclennan, SNH Western Isles Area manager, said: "The hard work over the past few years is beginning to pay off and although we are putting twice the effort into trapping the hedgehogs this is showing encouraging results in the number being located and caught. This size of team allows us to cover large areas quickly, clearing the islands of hedgehogs and thereby helping our native ground nesting wader birds to breed without disturbance.

"The results from this spring are very encouraging and we will compare these with the predictions from the population model and from there plan the next phase of searching in the autumn and beyond. We would describe the response from applicants as absolutely fantastic and we are very grateful to all the local people who applied."

Transferred to Ayrshire
Trapped animals are transferred to the UHR before being translocated to Hessilhead Wildlife Rescue Trust in North Ayrshire from which they are released to locations in Scotland.

Wader eggs predated by hedgehogs
Since the mid 1980s numbers of nesting waders have declined severely, a cause attributable to the predation habits of hedgehogs. The declines were, and continue to be, most dramatic in South Uist and Benbecula, where the population of some species has decreased by more than 50%. For example, dunlin populations declined from around 1,860 pairs in the mid 1980s to around 670 pairs by 1995.

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