Garden Wildlife Health Update

12 July 2019

Our goal is to discover and assess the disease threats facing our native populations of wildlife and our work provides the public and policy makers with the information to help prevent population declines due to disease.” Dr Becki Lawson from the Garden Wildlife Health Project at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology

In 2003, the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW) set up a working group (the Garden Bird Health Initiative) to conduct an ongoing surveillance and research programme investigating garden bird diseases, ways to minimise the risk of their occurrence, and to advise on best practice for feeding garden birds. The project was extremely successful, making it possible to learn a great deal about garden bird diseases and to identify practical measures that may help prevent or control outbreaks.  In 2013 the Garden Bird Health Initiative expanded its remit to include other garden wildlife and became the Garden Wildlife Health (GWH) project.

In 2016, UFAW agreed to support the Garden Wildlife Health (GWH) Project by providing a grant over three years to enable the GWH to develop website tools to better collect and analyse vital data on the health of wildlife populations from sightings provided by the public of sick or dead wildlife.  You can read more about the project here .

Since 2016, the Garden Wildlife Health team has continued to investigate disease threats (some of which may turn out to be influenced by human activities) to British wild animal health and welfare. The team is led by vets at the Zoological Society of London, who work in collaboration with scientists from the British Trust for Ornithology, Froglife and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.  Over the past year, 3,500 disease incident reports were received from members of the public and post-mortem examinations were conducted on around 200 wild animals to determine their cause of death. Since June 2018, the team has co-authored nine scientific publications on a range of conditions affecting multiple species, including herpesviruses, Erinaceus coronavirus and Listeria monocytogenes infection in hedgehogs; proliferative leg skin lesions in finches, salmonellosis in great spotted woodpeckers, ranid herpesvirus skin disease in common frogs, phaeohyphomycosis in a common toad and the apparent absence of salamander chytrid in British wild newts.  In order to share findings, GWH vets have given multiple conference presentations, participated in public outreach events and provided undergraduate and postgraduate teaching in wildlife health.  New disease factsheets were produced based on their scientific findings and are available to download from www.gardenwildilfehealth.org; a biannual e-newsletter has been circulated to more than 1500 reporters and social media platforms have been used to share best practice guidance for garden habitat management.

For more information, including factsheets and links to an interactive map, visit www.gardenwildlifehealth.org.