The Scottish Natural Heritage recently began a cull to decrease the population of hedgehogs on the western islands of Scotland. The prickly mammals threaten the native bird populations there by feeding on the eggs. Host Steve Curwood talks with Kay Bullen, a volunteer with a hedgehog rescue group, who’s trying to thwart the cull by relocating the creatures.
CURWOOD: In 1974, four hedgehogs were sent to the Hebrides Islands off the western coast of Scotland to weed out insects and slugs in a local garden. But since then, the prickly mammals have multiplied to 5000 and now threaten the native bird populations there by feasting on their eggs. So the Scottish Natural Heritage, a government-appointed agency, has been culling the hedgehogs by lethal injection on the island of North Uist.
Several animal advocacy groups are trying to thwart the cull by relocating the hedgehogs to the mainland. Kay Bullen, a volunteer with the Uist Hedgehog Rescue Group, has been searching for hedgehogs under the cover of darkness for the past two weeks. Hello there.
CURWOOD: For those of us who don't normally see hedgehogs ambling about, what do these guys look like?
BULLEN: Well, they're just very inoffensive little animals. They're smaller than a cat and they've got lots of prickles. And if you do look at the faces, they've got very cute little faces as well. And we consider them a gardener's friend over here, because they eat lots of things like slugs and snails and creepy crawlers that are eating people's plants.
CURWOOD: Now, why wait for nightfall to go looking for these creatures?
BULLEN: Because at night, that's when there's lots of slugs and snails and things like that around, so therefore hedgehogs are nocturnal.
CURWOOD: Have any of them been particularly evasive?
BULLEN: Yes, unfortunately. We've got one that we've been trying to catch for about five or six evenings, and every time we visit the area where we know he is, he disappears down, or she disappears down a rabbit burrow. And I can tell you it's a she because last night we did go out and we did actually manage to catch her, and she's a little girl, and she weighs 420 grams.
CURWOOD: What's her name?
BULLEN: We were calling her the Scarlet Pimpernel.
CURWOOD: [laughs] Now, when you catch these guys, what noise do they make?
BULLEN: They can huff and they can hiss. They try and intimidate by sounding really sort of fierce. And they raise their prickles when they're frightened. And a big hedgehog can have about 7000 prickles.
CURWOOD: How fast are they?
BULLEN: Well, they can run about 5 or 6 miles an hour.
CURWOOD: How many have you rescued so far?
BULLEN: We've rescued around 54 so far.
CURWOOD: Where are you going to relocate these hedgehogs?
BULLEN: Well first of all, they travel over to a place called Glasgow, and then they're going to be cascaded down throughout the rest of the country. But we don't just release them anywhere. There's badgers, the predators of hedgehogs, so we want to make sure there's no badgers in the area. And, I mean, people's gardens are ideal spots to release the hedgehogs.
CURWOOD: Now what happens if one of your team encounters someone from the Scottish Natural Heritage? What happens then?
BULLEN: We tend to avoid each other by mutual consent. We just want to get on and find as many hedgehogs as we can ahead of them. So, I mean, really, it is a race against time. We do want to go up there, and we want to catch as many as possible.
CURWOOD: Kay Bullen is a volunteer with the Uist Hedgehog Rescue Group on the Hebrides Islands. Kay, thanks for taking this time with me today.
BULLEN: You're very welcome.
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