Hedgehog activist told 'stay off isles'

AN ANIMAL rights activist has been banned from the Western Isles by a sheriff after a clash involving Scottish Natural Heritage workers trying to catch and kill hedgehogs.

Thomas Frampton, 42, was traced by police and charged after the alleged late-night encounter with the SNH employees on a quiet country road on North Uist. Frampton, who is understood to have been one of the volunteers with the group Uist Hedgehog Rescue (UHR), pleaded not guilty and was bailed on condition that he keeps well away from the islands until his trial.

The decision by SNH to cull the Uist hedgehogs has caused a furious reaction across the world. SNH claims there is no alternative because the hedgehogs are eating the eggs and the young of rare wading-bird populations, but critics say that they could have been relocated to the mainland.

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Charities have stepped in to rescue the hedgehogs, and a campaign called Operation Tiggywinkle has offered islanders 5 for each hedgehog they hand in. Naturalists say the hedgehogs may be breeding, and have criticised SNH officials for raising tensions by bringing in two dogs earlier this week to hunt them down. So far, the cull has not been a huge success. SNH officials have managed to kill only about 30 hedgehogs.

Islanders yesterday described how two female SNH employees, who work for the Uist Wader Project, become alarmed when they found their vehicle had apparently been followed.

One said: "At one stage, one of them called the police on a mobile phone to say that a threatening man was at the car and shining a bright flashlight in their faces."

Officers attended the scene, not far from Lochmaddy, on Tuesday evening, but there was no sign of anyone by that time. Frampton, a bus driver from Reading, Berkshire, was found by police the following day.

He was flown to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, where he appeared before Honorary Sheriff George Macleod at the town’s sheriff court.

He pleaded not guilty to charges of dangerous driving, breach of the peace and failing to give police information about the driver of a vehicle. Trial was fixed for 23 June at Lochmaddy Sheriff Court.

However, Mr Macleod told the accused’s solicitor that he was prepared to grant bail only on condition that Mr Frampton agreed to stay away from the Western Isles except for court appearances. That was accepted.

An SNH spokesman, George Anderson, said: "There has been an incident involving our staff and vehicles on a Uist road."

Press inquiries to the UHR encampment at Dungannichy Caravan Park on Benbecula, where the volunteers are staying, were referred to Ross Minett of Advocates For Animals in Edinburgh. He was unavailable for comment .

However, one woman at Dungannichy said: "We have heard that there has been some kind of misunderstanding. Some of the volunteers had broken down in their car and were trying to flag someone down to help them and that may have been misconstrued."