Monday, 20 March 2006

"They shoot hedgehogs, don't they?"

Spring is in the air, and with it an upsurge in news and debate about this years hedgehog cull on the Uists.

The back-story to this. Some years ago, hedgehogs appeared on the Uists. These aren't a native creature. Local legend has it that they were introduced by a gardener with a slug problem (the garden, not the owner). Having few predators, and there being little traffic to squash them in any significant numbers, hedgehogs rapidly multiplied in number.

One other factor helped the population increase: the supply of food. Bird eggs in particular. Unfortunately for the prickly beastie, this raised the ire of Scottish Natural Heritage, as it was the eggs of various protected bird species that were being nibbled. Hence, for the last four years, a cull of hedgehogs has taken place in the Outer Hebrides. Hedgehogs are hunted, trapped, and killed by lethal injection.

Not surprisingly, there have been protests. Some people argue that hedgehogs should be relocated to the mainland. One organisation that protects hedgehogs pays people to rescue and bring in hedgehogs for relocation. Some people have made a lot of money from this, though there is persistent gossip of people bringing large bags of hedgehogs over on the Calmac ferries in order to claim the attractive hand-in rewards. Some people argue that it just isn't a cost-effective operation, while others suggest culinary uses of these creatures.

A pro-hedgehog alliance has been formed of various groups and individuals. St Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital are prominant, as are Advocates for Animals and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society. Media celebrities are also starting to pile in.

The Hebridean newspaper from two weeks ago has a feature on "Queen legend Brian May", who has lent his support to the pro-hedgehog front. He's written ("emotively") to the Scottish Executive, RSPB and SNH on the issue. What caught my eye was the banner heading to the story: May wants hedgehogs 'to break free'. Under this was a quote from the Director of Uist Hedgehog Rescue: "He even offered to go up to the Uists himself and rescue the hedgehogs, though his availability will depend on his touring commitments with Queen."

We'll keep you posted if we spot any Queen guitarists in the vicinity.

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