Tuesday, 4 April 2006


<![CDATA[ This week, two endeavours are in the news to help birdlife in the Hebrides. One of them, in the Isle of Canna, is a wee bit outside my Lewis-based remit. However, as I already reported on it some time ago, I'll take the liberty of telling the positive outcome.

Manx Shearwater in flight (pic from RSPB website)
Back in October 2005, a campaign was started to rid Canna of its rats. These had come to the island 100 years ago on board ships. The rats have since gone forth and multiplied. The net result was a deleterious effect on breeding birds in the island. Manx Shearwaters, previously numbering 1500 breeding pairs, were down to just one or two. Because the rats would eat eggs and young. Manx Shearwaters nest down rabbit burrows. So, after the Canna mice had been evacuated to safety in Edinburgh (because they're unique), large amounts of ratpoison were shipped to the island at great peril to the boat. It had 4 grenades fired at it for all its bother (see my previous post Of Mice and Men). On Tuesday, it was reported that all the rats were thought to have been killed. The situation would continue to be monitored for at least a year, to make absolutely sure that none of the pests were left alive.

More controversial is the way Scottish Natural Heritage addresses the problem of another non-native of these islands, the hedgehog. Nobody likes rats, everybody likes the hedgehog. Same problem though. Hedgehogs eat eggs and young birds, and (as stated above) have been imported to the Uists. North Uist is home to the famous Balranald RSPB Reserve [RSPB = Royal Society for the Protection of Birds]. Many ground nesting birds come to the Uists, and are at risk from predation by hedgehogs. SNH has commenced its annual cull of the 5,000 hedgehogs in North Uist, with a less than glamourous expected successrate. In opposition, conservation groups have moved in to rescue the hedgehogs and take them to a new home on the Scottish mainland. Whether that is any good for the animals is a subject for debate. My line is that any animal species that is not native to the Hebrides, and is causing harm to other species should be gotten rid off.

I'll quote another example, the American mink. These occur in Harris and the Uists, and were introduced to the islands for breeding for the fur industry. When that collapsed in the 1970s, the mink disappeared into the wild, and have since been wreaking havoc on domestic farm animals (chickens) and fish farms (salmon). They can swim very well. A mink eradication programme has been successful in killing all the mink in Uist, at a cost of

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