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Garden Wildlife Health


Garden Wildlife Health (GWH) is a collaborative project between the Zoological Society of London  (ZSL), the British Trust for Ornithology  (BTO)Froglife  and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) which aims to monitor the health of, and identify disease threats to, British wildlife.

The GWH project began in summer 2013 and focuses on garden birds, amphibians, reptiles and hedgehogs.

UFAW has provided financial support to GWH since 2014 and continues to sponsor the project. This funding has been used to help fund laboratory investigations and development of website tools to collect and analyse data from this project.

Update on work during the period June 2021 to May 2022

Over the past 12 months, the GWH team has continued to investigate the causes of ill health affecting Great Britain’s garden wildlife in collaboration with scientists from their partner organisations: the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), Froglife, and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

During this period, around 4,600 disease incident reports were received from members of the public, and the team conducted post-mortem examinations on over 160 wild animals. GWH vets shared information with members of the public in response to these reports, providing advice on wildlife-friendly gardening practice for disease prevention and -control to help safeguard wildlife health and welfare.

Over the past year, the GWH team have been involved in a range of collaborative research projects, focused on:

·       Increasing our understanding of Usutu virus infection in British garden birds following the first detection of this virus in UK wild birds in 2020.

·       Investigating the ongoing impact of trichomonosis on finch populations.

·       Exploring the occurrence of pesticide exposure to hedgehogs and the implications that this might have for hedgehog health.

·       Learning more about leech parasitism of amphibians and the causes of tadpole mortality.

GWH team members continue to share information through social media, by participating in public outreach events, giving presentations at scientific conferences, and providing student teaching on wildlife health. Findings are translated into scientific papers, published in journals which are freely available to the public where possible, along with a library of disease factsheets, which are regularly updated and available to download from the GWH website.

To help us learn more about Garden Wildlife Health, please report observations of sick or dead garden birds, amphibians, reptiles and hedgehogs online at www.gardenwildlifehealth.org. Unfortunately the GWH vets are not able to offer advice on caring for wildlife casualties. Members of the UK public who are concerned about a sick or injured wild animal in their garden should contact their local veterinary surgeon, the RSPCA (24-hour tel. line: 0300 1234 999) or Scottish SPCA (24-hour tel. line: 03000 999 999) for advice.

Feeding Garden Birds Best Practice Guidance is available at https://www.gardenwildlifehealth.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/12/2021/04/Feeding-Garden-Birds-Best-Practice-Guidance.pdf

Be aware that feeding wildlife in your garden may attract rodents. If you experience a problem with rats or mice, please have a look at the UFAW information pages on humane rodent control.

For more information, and to report sightings of ill health in garden wildlife, please visit www.gardenwildlifehealth.org

UFAW History with Garden Bird Health Research

Professor James Kirkwood began investigating the infectious diseases that affect garden birds in Great Britain in the early 1990s whilst he worked at the Zoological Society of London. In 1998, as UFAW Chief Executive and Scientific Director (1996 - 2014) he co- authored advice on how to minimise the risk of infectious diseases when feeding garden birds (Available online at: https://www.ufaw.org.uk/animal-welfare-publications/infectious-diseases-of-garden-birds---minimising-the-risks.).

GBHi logoUFAW continued to promote garden bird welfare and in 2003 UFAW established a ‘Feeding Garden Birds: research needs, disease surveillance, and best practice guidelines’ working group to ‘review the possible benefits and disadvantages to birds and to consider if there is a need for improvements in current practice.’ This working group led to the foundation of the Garden Bird Health Initiative (GBHi), which operated from 2005-2012 and sought to:                      

  • Undertake a major garden bird health surveillance and research project.
  • Develop and publish guidelines about how to best feed garden birds in order to maximize the benefits for their welfare and conservation;

The GBHi was coordinated by the Institute of Zoology, in partnership with the Scottish Agricultural College, Liverpool University, the Wildlife Veterinary Investigation Centre, the British Trust for Ornithology, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and UFAW, in collaboration with multiple other organisations.

The GBHi was generously sponsored by the Birdcare Standards Association, British Veterinary Association Animal Welfare Foundation, British Trust for Ornithology, CJ Wildbird Foods Ltd, Cranswick Pet Products, Defra, Gardman Ltd, RCVS Trust, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and UFAW.

UFAW ran an international conference in 2010 at the Zoological Society of London on ‘Wild Bird Care in the Garden’ which brought together interested parties and researchers in the field of wild bird feeding and management. Further details and an abstract booklet from this conference is available at: https://www.ufaw.org.uk/ufaw-events/wild-bird-care-in-the-garden

In 2013, the GBHi was amalgamated with the Frog Mortality Project (a project to investigate causes of amphibian mortality and which had run since 1992) to form Garden Wildlife Health. The remit of this project was expanded to investigate and monitor the health of reptiles and hedgehogs in Great Britain, as well as continuing to investigate causes of amphibian and garden bird disease. Research undertaken by the GWH project has resulted in the production of a number of factsheets, best practice guidelines and other publications covering amphibian, hedgehog, bird and reptile health.

GWH receives funding from the UK Department for the Environment Food & Rural Affairs and Welsh Government through the Animal Plant & Health Agency’s Diseases of Wildlife Scheme Scanning Surveillance Programme (Project ED1600), the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and the Banister Charitable Trust. UFAW has, and continues, to provide support for the GWH project since 2014.