Lapwing  ©Lorne Gill/SNH. For information on reproduction rights contact the Scottish Natural Heritage Image Library on Tel. 01738 444177 or www.nature.scot

Uist Wader Research

Wader decline is a complex problem, but non-native hedgehogs exert the most severe pressure on Uist populations of the birds.

North Uist, Benbecula and South Uist are home to internationally important populations of ground nesting wading birds. These nest on machair, a unique, species-rich coastal grassland.

Uist Wader Research – then called the Uist Wader Project – was set up in 2000 in response to the decline in these wader populations. Research in the 1980s and 1990s found that this was largely due to egg predation by hedgehogs.

In 2012, the project began a four-year research phase to explore the factors affecting the breeding success of the wader populations. This suggested that removing the hedgehogs would allow more nests to hatch successfully and give wader populations the best chance to recover.

In February 2015, the project presented a paper on Uist Wader Recovery to the SNH Board. This details the results of the project’s research phase and options for managing hedgehogs in the Uists. Our Board continues to support the project and its aim to eradicate hedgehogs from the Uists, when a means of funding has been established..

The project is now exploring sources of funding, to enable a full scale removal of hedgehogs from Uist.

SNH manages the project in cooperation with:

  • RSPB Scotland
  • Comhairle nan Eilean Siar
  • Scottish SPCA
  • Hessilhead Wildlife Rescue – including Uist Hedgehog Rescue associates
  • Scottish SPCA

Species under threat

Introduced to South Uist in 1974, hedgehogs have spread across the islands and reached a density where they damage wader populations.

Hedgehogs eat eggs and young chicks, and cause up to 50% of all breeding failures in South Uist among:

  • lapwing
  • dunlin
  • ringed plover
  • redshank
  • snipe

Research phase

From 2012 to 2014, the project engaged in further research to better understand the challenges that waders face when trying to breed.

The researchers:

  • monitored the outcome of more than 1,000 nests
  • studied the behaviour of breeding birds and their predators
  • developed monitoring techniques for hedgehogs

The result of the research is clear: hedgehogs are a dominant predator of wader nests. In South Uist, where hedgehog numbers were high, 55% of monitored nests failed. In North Uist, where there were very few hedgehogs, the nest failure rate was only 26%.

Rats, ravens, gulls, otters and cats were all recorded as predators, yet hedgehogs accounted for more than half of all predations in South Uist.

Nest monitoring videos

Motion-detecting cameras equipped with infrared lighting were used on a limited number of nests to capture video of hatching success or predation.

View videos of egg and chick predation on our YouTube channel;

  • Ringed plover nest predation by a hedgehog on South Uist

    Duration
    00:44

    Uist Wader Research footage from May 2013 shows a ringed plover incubating eggs at Ormiclate, South Uist. The bird is then scared from the nest by an approaching hedgehog (a non-native species to the islands), actively seeking nests to predate.

  • Lapwing nest predation by a hedgehog on South Uist.

    Duration
    00:38

    Uist Wader Research footage from May 2013 shows a lapwing with its chicks at a nest near Loch Bee, South Uist. A hedgehog (a non-native species to the island) is then seen feeding at the nest, whilst the lapwing mother tries to protect her chicks.
    Credit: Scottish Natural Heritage.

  • Lapwing nest predation by a hedgehog on South Uist

    Duration
    00:49

    Uist Wader Research footage from June 2013 shows a lapwing being scared from its nest by a hedgehog (a non-native species to the island) near Loch Bee, South Uist. The hedgehog is then seen feeding at the nest, whilst the lapwing mother tries to protect her chicks.

  • Lapwing nest predation by a hedgehog on South Uist.

    Duration
    00:43

    Uist Wader Research footage from April 2014 shows a lapwing incubating eggs at Bornish, South Uist. A hedgehog (which isn't native to the islands) is then seen feeding on eggs at the nest.

Hedgehog welfare

Using live cage traps and trained sniffer dogs has shown to be a very effective means of finding and catching hedgehogs. Caught animals are passed into the care of Uist Hedgehog Rescue and translocated to the Scottish mainland.

Report a hedgehog sighting

Let us know if you find a hedgehog in North Uist only, as this is the area being monitored at the present time. If you locate a hedgehog in Benbecula or South Uist please leave it alone as there is no capacity to carry out removal from this area. Please continue to check this website for any change.

Iain Macleod
Uist Wader Project - Operations Manager
Telephone: 01463 7001636 (direct dial)
Email: [email protected]

You can also contact the rescue team direct:

Pat Holtham
Uist Hedgehog Rescue
Telephone: 01870 610 354