Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) hopes to secure funding for its final push to remove hedgehogs from parts of the Western Isles.

Two years ago the agency unveiled a £5m plan to clear then from the Uists over 10 years, work which was expected to start this year.

More than a decade earlier SNH outraged many environmentalists by embarking on a cull of the animals to protect the internationally important populations of wading birds in North Uist, Benbecula and South Uist.

The problem began when hedgehogs, an alien species, were introduced to Western Isles in 1974 with seven being released around Daliburgh in South Uist to eat garden slugs.

However the cull attracted widespread criticism operation, and it was later established that the animals did not have to be killed but could be successfully relocated to the mainland, and that work has continued. "Since its start in 2001 to present, £2,679,362 has been invested and 2,441 hedgehogs removed. This is a significant success story," the agency said.

David Maclennan, SNH’s unit manager for Argyll and the Outer Hebrides, said: “Our work has successfully removed almost all introduced hedgehogs from North Uist – where their opportunity to predate wader nests has been greatly reduced.

“The key challenge for us and our partners now is to secure funding to deliver a large scale project that would aim to remove all the hedgehogs from the Uists and enable recovery of the internationally important wader populations. Work in this regard is ongoing.”

He said SNH was committed to working with the Western Isles Council, RSPB Scotland, local community landowner Storas Uibhist and Hessilhead Wildlife Rescue Trust.

"Our work involves trapping hedgehogs humanely and caring for them in a holding facility on Uist before they are relocated to mainland Scotland,” he said.