Hedgehog removal shows no evidence of bird numbers boost

EXILING hedgehogs from the Uists may not have helped increase Wader bird populations.

Despite a four year cull and another four years of translocation of the non-native animals, there is no evidence so far that bird populations are on the up.

In a report to the Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) Board this week, it was recommended that a four year research programme, be approved to explore the factors influencing the wader populations and continue to remove the animals from the islands.

The same report states that if after the four years, there is still no ‘robust evidence’, the removal of hedgehogs would come to an end, subject to agreement with the Scottish Government.

Uist Hedghog Rescue, who have been involved with the relocation of hedghogs since 2007, seemed unsurprised by the contents of the SNH report and said there were several factors impacting the wader populations.

Ross Minett from UHR said: ““We welcome the fact that Scottish National Heritage are considering this monitoring programme, as it is important to measure the overall effectiveness of the current programme to remove hedgehogs from the islands. Without this information it is impossible to say whether the project has ultimately been successful or not. However, we have always considered that the hedgehogs are likely to be only one of several factors impacting on the wader populations, and simply tackling the hedgehog problem will not be a ‘magic bullet’ that will restore wader numbers back to their previous levels. UHR has been working effectively with SNH for some years now and we look forward to this continuing. ”

The report before SNH also considered the impact of using dogs to search for hedgehogs.

A significant improvement in the efficiency of locating the animals was noted from using dogs but it was also suggested that dogs now be muzzled to prevent harm to the hedgehogs.

The report states: “During searching, a hedgehog died from injuries attributable to being picked up by the dog, and a second hedgehog may also have died in a similar way. This issue has been discussed with welfare organisations (UHR and SSPCA) and discussions to develop clear protocols relating to such welfare issues are ongoing. Support has been given for the continued use of the dog provided the dog is muzzled.”

A SNH spokesperson confirmed that an average of 13 staff had been employed annually in the Uist Wader Project and until 2010 staff were predominantly on short-term contracts to cover the spring (11 weeks) and autumn (7 weeks) trapping periods. They said there were currently three staff on Uist.