Stop 'barbaric' slaughter of island's gannet chicks, urges animal charity

An animal welfare charity is calling for an end to the "barbaric and inhumane" practice of beating gannet chicks to death on a remote Scottish island.

The Scottish SPCA spoke out against the tradition of "guga hunting" when men from Ness, on the Isle of Lewis, sail out to the uninhabited island of Sula Sgeir to hunt and kill the birds for eating.

Thousands of chicks are plucked from the cliff tops and hit on the head in the cull which takes place every August.

The charity has now written to the Scottish Government asking for the licence that allows the practice to continue each year to be revoked on animal welfare grounds.

It believes the methods used in the cull cause the birds unnecessary suffering.

Scottish SPCA chief superintendent Mike Flynn said. "The suffering starts before any attempt to kill takes place because the chicks are hauled from cliff tops using nooses attached to long poles, which in itself will terrify the birds.

"They are then struck on the head with a heavy implement until dead. A competent person may kill one or two birds outright with a single blow, but in our opinion most will take more than one blow to be killed.

"We would expect other animal welfare and conservation organisations to be supportive of a move to bring to an end a barbaric and inhumane practice which causes unnecessary suffering to thousands of young gannets every year."

He said that tradition was not an acceptable reason for maintaining such a practice and that while 150 to 200 years ago the guga formed part of the staple diet of the islanders, this was no longer the case.

Mr Flynn said: "It may be argued that the cull is

sustainable or it simply doesn't matter because the gannet is

not an endangered species, but these arguments are irrelevant when suffering is being

caused.

"The killing of any animal must be carried out in the most humane manner possible and this practice has no place in modern society."

It was not possible to speak to a guga hunter for comment as they are on Sula Sgeir for the cull and will not return until next week.

Sula Sgeir is around 40 miles north east of the Butt of Lewis and is a National Nature Reserve managed by Scottish Natural Heritage.

Coun Kenneth Murray, whose ward includes Ness, said: "I think most people in Ness have a very positive view of the guga hunting.

"The bird numbers don't seem to be declining as other bird populations are and it doesn't seem to be damaging the population at all.

"For people in Ness it is a delicacy and it is a historical thing, not something that they just started doing."