The Mammal Society regrets the introduction of hedgehogs to the Uists, their release on several other British islands, and their sale around the world as part of the pet trade. These actions are extremely irresponsible.
Introduced species are a major cause of species loss worldwide. Predation by the introduced hedgehogs on the Uist wader populations has created a conservation problem of international importance.
The problem posed by the introduction of hedgehogs to the Uists will not be resolved in the near future, and it will be extremely difficult if not impossible to eradicate the hedgehogs from the islands. It is important, therefore, that all possible solutions to the problem are explored as a matter of ugency.
The Mammal Society welcomes the public interest in, and concern about, all issues affecting British mammals. It urges Scottish Natural Heritage to note the widespread public concern about their proposal to cull the hedgehogs on the Uists, to respond to the concerns that have been raised and to work in collaboration with other interest groups.
The Mammal Society believes that Scottish Natural Heritage should explore all potential solutions to the problem to ensure that the final plans to resolve the problem have the widest public support and can act as a model to address similar problems in the future.
The Mammal Society believes that plans to conserve the waders on the Uists should be based on the best scientific data available and regrets that such information is not currently available despite the need to address the problem as a matter of urgency.
In particular The Mammal Society regrets that Scottish Natural Heritage failed to implement the proposed trial hedgehog translocation as proposed by Reeve and Bristow in Scottish Natural Heritage Commissioned Report F01LC03. The data generated by that study would have informed the current debate and speeded up resolution of the problem.
The Mammal Society is concerned about the apparent lack of data on current hedgehog population size, ecology and population dynamics on the Uists, and the absence of a clear and quantified plan showing how Scottish Natural Heritage is going to address the problem posed by the hedgehogs on the Uists. The Mammal Society urges Scottish Natural Heritage to make these data publicly available as a matter of priority.
In particular, Scottish Natural Heritage needs to demonstrate the levels of population reduction needed each year to eliminate the hedgehogs from the Uists or, if this is not an achievable goal, the level of population reduction needed to minimise the impact on the wader population. If the latter approach appears to be the best, or only, solution to the problem, then Scottish Natural Heritage should also show how they plan to maintain hedgehog numbers at this low level.
The Mammal Society believes that the immediate priority is to prevent the further spread of hedgehogs on North Uist and urges Scottish Natural Heritage to focus resources on tackling this issue first. In the late 1990s it was estimated that there were a few hundred hedgehogs in the southern part of North Uist (Jackson and Green, 2000, Biological Conservation, 93, 333-348).
The Mammal Society urges Scottish Natural Heritage to produce plans to catch these hedgehogs this spring, to use the exercise to identify any problems encountered and to quantify the resources and effort needed to remove the hedgehogs from Benbecula and South Uist. The Mammal Society urges Scottish Natural Heritage to produce these plans expeditiously.
The hedgehogs caught on North Uist should be used for a trial translocation. The Mammal Society urges Scottish Natural Heritage to work with interested parties to ensure that this trial goes ahead this year. It will be important to use the exercise to examine the feasibility of translocations, whether there are unacceptable stress and mortality levels for released hedgehogs, and to identify any practical problems that are encountered.
The Mammal Society stresses the need for Scottish Natural Heritage to work with the various organisations expressing concern about this issue, and to pool resources and expertise. This will enable Scottish Natural Heritage to find the most effective and acceptable solution to the problem.