TRAPPERS arrived back on North Uist and Benbecula yesterday for the latest controversial cull of hedgehogs on the islands to help save their internationally important bird populations.
They will again be restricted to killing the animals by lethal injection, following a decision by Scottish Natural Heritage, a leading partner in the Uist Wader Project, to shelve plans to shoot hedgehogs after locating them using tracker dogs.
SNH had planned to use specially trained dogs to find the last few hedgehogs in particular areas covered in previous culling operations, allowing marksmen to then use shotguns to kill them. But the plan met opposition.
Legislation covering the use of dogs for hunting wild animals, requires that any animal found by a dog must then be shot, rather than put down.
A spokesman for SNH said: "Although the use of specially trained tracker dogs and shooting is widely used and recognised as a legal and humane method for the dispatch of animals, the partners in the project, and others, are uncomfortable with the concept of shooting hedgehogs."
Uist Hedgehog Rescue (UHR), a coalition of animal welfare groups dedicated to saving the isles' hedgehogs, has welcomed the decision to shelve the shooting scheme.
A spokeswoman said: "UHR is obviously pleased to learn that SNH is no longer planning to blast away healthy hedgehogs with shotguns. The conservation quango must have underestimated the public revulsion at its unethical plan to spend taxpayers' money shooting hedgehogs on the Uists."
The Uist Wader Project was established in 2000 to safeguard the internationally important populations of wading birds, including lapwing, snipe, dunlin, redshank, and ringed plover whose eggs were being eaten by hedgehogs.