Monday, July 26, 2010

Photo courtesy: Wildlife Extra

Specially-trained sniffer dogs are now being used in Scotland's Western Isles in the hunt to find hedgehogs that have been preying on the eggs of native bird populations.The dogs are being used by the Uist Wader Project (UWP) as part of an ongoing drive to rid the Western Isles of the non-native hedgehogs.

New dog handler Stephen Robinson is in place to help the team along with golden Labrador Misca, who is fully trained and will mainly be used on the moorland on the east side of Benbecula, and parts of North Uist. She is expected to be extremely effective, especially in those areas where hedgehogs are thin on the ground and the terrain is tough going for the project's 16 trappers. The sniffer dog also gives us a means of determining the efficiency of trapping.

And Stephen has just got a second dog, Guss, who is just a few months old, but will be trained to search out hedgehogs.

The UWP is responsible for removing introduced hedgehogs from the Uists and Benbecula. Research has shown that hedgehogs have caused severe damage to the islands' biodiversity by eating the eggs of internationally important populations of wader birds.

UWP manager Gwen Evans confirmed: "We have already contacted many crofters and landowners to find out if they are willing for a dog to search part of their croft land, but we have more people to contact. Prior to appointing Stephen, we needed to be sure that Misca was suitable for the job, especially around stock, so we asked Pete Crichton to help."

Pete has impressive credentials as for the past 10 years he has been assessing the suitability of dogs for the Search and Rescue Dog Association (SARDA). This work is as a volunteer which he fits around his paid job as part of the SNH team based at Kinlochewe on the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve. With Calum Watt, the local SSCPA Inspector looking on, the prospective dog and handler were assessed for control of the dog; coverage of the ground and especially how they reacted to stock. Each dog was expected to sit in the corner of a pen of sheep, while the sheep were moved around.

"We are pleased to report that Misca passed with flying colours. The next stage was to search a field looking for hedgehog smells - we used bedding that hedgehogs had been using overnight, hidden down rabbit burrows and in walls. Again, Misca was clearly suitable for the job."

Ross Minett, the Uist Hedgehog Rescue (UHR) spokesperson, said: "We are pleased to be helping both hedgehogs and the wading birds by removing the hedgehogs from the Uists in a humane manner. We have already translocated lots of these wonderful creatures back to mainland Scotland where they have been released to live out their lives."

Scottish SPCA chief superintendent Mike Flynn said: "The introduction of hedgehogs on to Uist has been having a detrimental effect on the native bird population for many years now, therefore we fully appreciate the need to undertake this translocation project. So far this year the number caught in Benbecula stands at just 41 which represents significant progress with the trapping effort and a dwindling population of hedgehogs."

Via Wildlife Extra

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