Hedgehog rescuers face a prickly situation off the Scottish coast
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2003–
EDINBURGH–Operation Tiggywinkle was to
commence at dawn on March 27, 2003 in the
Western Isles off Scotland.
Ross Minott, campaign director for the
Scots group Advocates for Animals, was to lead a
20-member volunteer team ashore to try to rescue
an estimated 5,000 hedgehogs from the islands of
North Uist, Benbecula, and South Uist, ahead
of death squads to be sent in April by Scottish
The hedgehogs were introduced to the Western
Isles in 1974 as an attempted biological control
for garden slugs and snails who annoyed the 6,000
human residents of the islands. Eventually the
hedgehogs came to be considered pests themselves.
In December 2002 a six-year study
commissioned by Scottish National Heritage blamed
the hedgehogs for declines of up to 60% during
the study period in the populations of dunlin,
lapwing, redshank, ringed plover,
oystercatchers, and snipe. The hedgehogs have
purportedly been killing off the wading birds by
raiding their nests to eat their eggs.
The birds are protected by international
treaty. Hedgehogs, whose mainland population is
estimated at 1.5 million, are not.
Likened by Paul Kelbie, Scotland
correspondent for The Independent, to the
“pillaging Vikings and English redcoat soldiers
hunting Bonnie Prince Charlie” who invaded the
Western Isles in past centuries, the hedgehogs
were condemned to death.
Scottish Natural Heritage chair John
Markland argued that humane capture and
repatriation to the mainland could not be done.
Fiona Stewart, Fay Vass, and Ann Salmond of the
Hedgehog Preservation Society, Les Stocker of
St. Tiggywinkle’s wildlife hospital in Aylesbury,
Buckinghamshire, and Advocates for Animals
directors Minott and Les Ward were all
All knew, for example, that hedgehogs
have been captured from the wild and relocated
all over the world as exotic pets, and have
proved surprisingly adaptable to many new
environments. Their success in the Western Isles
was itself an example of their adaptability.
When the hedgehog defenders failed to
persuade the Scottish Parliament to intervene,
they organized the attempted Dunkirk-like
evacuation, using private aircraft to swiftly
move as many hedgehogs as can be captured. The
hedgehogs are to be relocated to suitable habitat
including the estates of Sir Paul McCartney and
the Duchess of Hamilton.
The Mammal Trust volunteered to help,
but withdrew when the organizers refused to allow
biologists to put radio collars on the relocated
hedgehogs to trace their fate. The scheme was
opposed because of growing indications that
radio-collared animals of all sorts have higher
mortality than non-collared animals, possibly
because the sounds the collars emit are audible
to some predators, and possibly because the
collars inhibit evasive maneuvers.
The rescue effort was bitterly attacked
by Alasdair Morrison, the Western Isles member
of the Scottish Parliament.
“Those who want to transfer the hedgehogs
elsewhere are willing to risk extreme trauma and
leave them prey to more savage predators,” he
said. “These hedgehogs have adapted to life
foraging on seashores, not in lush forests.
They are unequipped for mainland Britain,”
Morrsion told Kelbie of The Independent, “and
will face vicious deaths from foxes, badgers,
and every other roving predator because of
do-gooders who cannot face practical,
common-sense solutions that are best for all.”
But if the hedgehogs themselves had a
say, they would undoubtedly prefer taking their
chances against the four-legged predators over
dealing with the human kind.
The massacre by Scottish Natural Heritage
awaiting any hedgehogs who evade rescue is only
one of many planned for the British Isles in 2003.
The European Union has already helped to
fund a £1.65 million effort to eradicate mink
from the Uists and Benbecula. The mink are
descended from hundreds who either escaped from
fur farms during the past few decades, or were
released by saboteurs. Fur farming is now
banned, and feral nutria, another species
introduced accidentally by the fur trade, have
already been extirpated, but mink have proved
more elusive. The Western Isles mink
extermination effort last fall included the use
of nine mink hounds, and became an campaign
exhibit for opponents of the Scots ban on
hounding wildlife and the long debated proposed
ban on hounding in Britain.
The British Environment Agency and
Suffolk Wildlife Trust are currently planning a
national putsch against mink, to try to save the
water vole. Mink are blamed for reducing the
water vole population from about nine million in
1980 to circa 800,000 today.
Responding to demands from the Royal
Society for the Protection of Birds, the
Wildlife Trust, and the Wildfowl and Wetlands
Trusts, British wildlife minister Elliott Morley
on March 2 ordered the extermination of the
entire resident population of 6,000 ruddy ducks,
introduced from North America after World War II
by Sir Peter Scott.
Scott, an avid duck hunter, founded
both the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trusts and the
World Wildlife Fund. He imported the ruddy ducks
to become a huntable population. But he
apparently did not realize that though officially
classified as a separate species from the
white-headed duck, an annual migrant between
Britain and Spain, they are biologically just a
color morph of the same species–and when the
colors mingle, the ruddy tones prevail.
Spain has since 1977 been attempting to
preserve a “pure” race of white-headed ducks.
The initial population of 22 has slowly increased
to 2,500–about the same number as the volume of
ruddy ducks shot in test culls during the past
three years to perfect methods of killing the
The final impetus to the extermination of
the British ruddy ducks was the war in Iraq,
which Birdlife Inter-national warned might harm
the only white-headed ducks who winter outside of
Spain. That flock winters near Basra.
Animal Aid director Andrew Tyler called
the ruddy duck killing “grotesque and
hypocritical, an attempt to impose a kind of
genetic uniformity on nature,” and suggested
that the RSPB “should be called the Royal Society
for the Protection of Some Birds.”
Tyler also pointed out that for the
projected cost of the killing, all 6,000 ruddy
ducks could be flown back to North America at
business class fares.
The RSPB is also poisoning the black rats
of Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel this
spring, to protect puffins and manx shearwaters.
The puffin population of the island has
reportedly fallen from 3,500 pairs in 1939 to
fewer than 10 pairs in 2000, when they were most
Animal Aid campaigns director Becky Lilly
suggested to BBC News that overfishing, cutting
into the birds’ food supplies, might be harming
them more than the rats.
British red squirrel advocates are
pushing for massacres of feral North American
gray squirrels, who have become the dominant
squirrel species in much of England and Scotland.
Sterling University researcher Dan
Tomkins reported in late March that the major
factor favoring gray squirrels over reds may be
the paropox virus, carried by gray squirrels but
more harmful to reds. Human-planted woodland
corridors intended to help red squirrels by
linking habitats, Tomkins said, are actually
just bringing the greys and reds into closer
contact. Changing the tree varieties chosen for
planting could help to keep the species separate,
while thinning the gray squirrel population might
just encourage infected survivors to roam farther
and socialize more with red squirrels in search