FACTSHEET NUMBER 7 FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS What are waders? ‘Waders’ is a collective name for the group of birds that can be seen ‘wading’ on the shoreline, searching for food such as small insects. They include lapwing, oystercatcher, ringed plover, dunlin, snipe and redshank. Is Uist special for waders? Yes. The Uists provide some of the best sites in How do you know hedgehogs are eating wader Europe for these birds. In recognition of this, two eggs? areas, covering more than 10 000 hectares, have been A five-year programme of research was started by the recognised by the European designation - Special RSPB in 1996 to investigate the cause of the declines. Protection Areas (SPA), and 13 sites as Sites of Special Hundreds of nests were located and monitored. The Scientific Interest (SSSI), a national designation. researchers were able to tell whether nests had hatched successfully or not, and the study found that hedgehogs Has the size of the nesting population of waders were responsible for most of the nest failures by eating changed in the Uist? their eggs. Hedgehogs leave very clear signs when they Yes. In the mid 1980’s, detailed surveys estimated the come across a nest and eat the eggs. wader population to be at least 17,000 breeding pairs. In 1995, they were counted again and a huge drop was Has anyone actually seen hedgehogs eat wader recorded. The most recent survey carried out in 2000 eggs? revealed the full extent of the declines. In South Uist Yes. Radio-tracked hedgehogs were followed and and Benbecula, snipe, dunlin and ringed plover have observed eating eggs. They have also been filmed and declined by 60%; redshank by 40% and lapwing by photographed. 30%. By contrast, in North Uist the estimated numbers of three of these species (oystercatcher, lapwing and redshank) increased; dunlin declined by 30% and ringed plover by 50%. Why have waders declined? There is clear evidence to show that high levels of egg predation caused by hedgehogs is causing the decline. Can the waders not lay more eggs? Even though waders can lay a replacement clutch, a Although there may be some other factors involved, the high proportion of these are also eaten and, at the end north-south differences reflect the known distribution of the year, not enough chicks survive to maintain the of hedgehogs, i.e. they are absent from northern sites population. For some species in South Uist and but abundant on southern sites. Benbecula, less than one pair in five successfully rear North young in a year. But some birds declined in North Uist? True, but for dunlin this was about half as severe as it was in the South. Nevertheless, the reason for their What else do hedgehogs eat? They eat a wide range of food, mainly invertebrates, decline in North Uist is not clear. The fall in ringed including earthworms, beetles and snails and also plover numbers is obviously not a hedgehog effect. It carrion. Bird eggs form a very small proportion of is, however, the only wader species which may nest on their diet. a different island each year. This may partly explain why they have declined throughout the Uists. FACTSHEET NUMBER 7 FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS How many hedgehogs are there in the Uists? The estimate is 5,000 adults, and these will give birth to around 10,000 young each year. Litters typically however, unclear as there is no evidence of a contain three to five young, and some females produce significant change in gull numbers. two litters in a season. Are mink a problem for Uist waders? How did hedgehogs get to Uist? Mink are non-native mammals from North America, We know of four hedgehogs brought to South Uist in which have also been introduced to the Western Isles 1974, a further 3 in 1975. It was thought that they by humans. However, they are thought to have only would help to control garden pests (slugs and snails). reached the Uists around 1999 and their numbers are Although they are native to the UK mainland, they low (< 100). Between 1999 and 2001 the Uist Mink were never found naturally in the Western Isles or the Group have controlled their numbers and now a major other island groups around Scotland. project is attempting eradication. So far, mink have been found mostly on the east coast away from the main wader breeding grounds, but they are known to be a problem for other native wildlife (terns, gulls and waterfowl) and other interests (fisheries, poultry and tourism). J.Love D. Jackson Where are the hedgehogs on Uist? To date there is no evidence that they are having a They are widespread throughout South Uist and negative impact on Uist waders. For five years from Benbecula and are spreading northwards through North October 2001, work by the Hebridean Mink Project Uist. Currently (2002) they are known to be present in will attempt to stop any further spread and reduce the small numbers in Carinish and Locheport, but so far number of mink from the Uists. there are very few sightings elsewhere in North Uist. Aren’t there any laws against releasing animals? Are there hedgehogs elsewhere in the Western Under current legislation, there are no laws to prevent Isles? hedgehogs being released as they are native to the UK. Lewis and Harris also have introduced hedgehogs, but There are, however, laws prohibiting the release of they do not have the high numbers of breeding waders species, which are not native to the UK, such as mink. that the Uists support. Waders and hedgehogs have not The Scottish Executive has said that it is committed to been studied in Lewis and Harris, and so it is not strengthening current nature conservation laws and will known whether they are posing a problem. introduce legislative proposals by March 2003. Are there any other predators which eat wader Do Uist hedgehogs have any natural predators? eggs? To all intents and purposes no, however, very Yes. Common gulls are also known to take some occasionally large raptors may tackle a hedgehog. On wader eggs, but they are native to the Uists. For most the mainland, badgers and foxes will kill and eat them. wader species the available evidence shows that egg Collision with vehicles is one of the most significant losses to gulls are at a similar level now to what it was non-natural causes of death. In the Uists, relatively in the 1980s. However, ringed plover egg loss to few hedgehogs die in this way due to the very light common gulls may have increased. This may have traffic. contributed to their decline. The reasons for this are, FACTSHEET NUMBER 7 FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS What is the future for Uist waders? What will you do once hedgehogs have been If no conservation action is taken wader numbers will captured? remain severely depressed in South Uist and There are several options, including: Benbecula, and some may even disappear from certain 1. Translocation of hedgehogs to mainland areas. On North Uist, as hedgehogs spread northwards Britain. into the remaining hedgehog-free areas which still 2. Humane lethal control. support large wader populations, numbers are likely to 3. Sterilisation of the population. decline in a similar fashion to South Uist and Benbecula. Is translocation feasible? The Project commissioned a desk-based study to investigate this. Although this study found that in principle translocation appears to be possible it also raised significant welfare concerns both for the hedgehogs being translocated and the mainland hedgehog populations. So, how can Uist Waders be saved? After many years of research, the only viable option is to reduce levels of egg losses by reducing the hedgehog population. To achieve this hedgehogs have to be caught. Surely, it must be possible to keep hedgehogs out from key areas? Although one small area is being protected by hedgehog-proof fencing, this approach can only protect a tiny percentage of the total Uist wader population, which is spread over 200 km2. Why do fences not work? There are very few places in Uist suitable for special fencing, because hedgehogs easily find gaps and can Does that mean humane lethal control of hedgehogs get through. Hedgehogs can also swim. Experience is the only way to safeguard Uist Waders? from the islands shows that standard rabbit-proof The Uist Wader Project will only consider lethal fences are constantly breached on dry machair habitats, humane control when viable non-lethal solutions have by rabbits burrowing underneath so are unable to been ruled out. exclude hedgehogs. Nevertheless, there may be a role for fencing to slow down their spread in North Uist. Is it possible to use Okay, so hedgehogs need to be caught, how is this contraceptives to done? reduce the population? Several methods of catching hedgehogs have been This is also being looked tested including searching with spot lamps at night, into, but there is live trapping with baited cage traps and locating them currently no chemical with sniffer dogs. By marking hedgehogs, living in a available for use on hedgehogs. Most mammal defined area it is possible to work out what percentage contraceptives work for only a short time, perhaps one of hedgehogs can be located using the different season. Therefore, treatment would be needed every methods. So far, spot-lamping in May has proved to be year. Expert opinion suggests that this technology will by far the most effective method with up to 70% of the not be available for many years. Any product would hedgehogs located in a single search visit. have to be tested to ensure that it posed no risks to other wildlife, livestock, pets or people. Discussions with experts are ongoing. FACTSHEET NUMBER 7 FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS Are the Uist wader sites protected by the law? Are there any relevant guidelines about catching Yes, there are both national and international laws and moving pregnant hedgehogs? under which breeding waders sites on the Uists are There are no specific regulations in relation to the protected: collection, transit or release of hedgehogs that are carrying or nursing litters. However, the Home Office European Legislation have a Code of Practice for the Housing and Care of Under the EC Birds Directive, Member States are Animals used in Scientific Procedures. This states that required to take special measures to conserve the small mammals should not be transported in the last habitats of rare bird species and of regularly occurring fifth of pregnancy. For hedgehogs, this would be after migratory birds. In particular, each Member State is day 25. The SSPCA recommend that animals should required to classify the most suitable areas of such not be transported in the last third or pregnancy. For habitats as Special Protection Areas. Two sites on the hedgehogs this would be after day 22. Uists (North Uist Machair & Islands and South Uist Machair and Lochs) have been classified as Special What do we do if we see a hedgehog? Protection Areas, covering over 10 000 hectares. If you see a hedgehog in North Uist (except Carinish) , or on the Islands of Baleshare or Berneray it is vital Under the terms of the Directive, the UK Government that you let us know as soon as possible, whether it is is required to maintain these sites in a “favourable dead or alive. There are currently no hedgehogs in conservation status”. Declines in the population of Eriskay either, but they now have access by the new wader numbers are not compatible with this. Failure to causeway. Nor have hedgehogs reached Barra and comply with the Birds Directive may result in the UK Vatersay. Government facing legal proceedings. Who is involved in the Project? UK Legislation The Project is steered by a Management Group The Wildlife and Countrysde Act 1981 allows areas of comprising Scottish Natural Heritage, RSPB Scotland special wildlife interest to be given protection by and the Scottish Executive. The research and survey designating them as Sites of Special Scientific Interest. work on the waders and hedgehogs is co-ordinated by Thirteen sites on Uist have been notified, fully or RSPB Scotland’s Research Department. A Local partly, because of important populations of nesting Liaison Group, which includes representatives from waders. local estates, the crofting community and the Western Isles Council has also been established.
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