14 October 2011

Importance of proper hygiene at the bird table

Please find below an article published by a friend and fellow wildlife and bird lover/rescuer and rehabber, Samantha Bedford (Bedfordshire Wildlife Rescue) on the need for proper hygiene at bird feeders/tables and baths. With the cases of this horrible ailment on the increase, seen by rescue centres up and down the country, awareness needs to be shared and responsibility taken by all those that love seeing birds in their gardens. This ailment, commonly known as 'canker' can be very easily controlled and eradicated from your garden by following simple hygiene practise. So over to Sam and please share with everyone:
Alternatively known as frounce or canker, this ailment is caused by an organism called Trichomonas gallinae, a flagellated protozoan that lives in the sinuses, mouth and throat of birds. It has become a well known garden disease after the noticeable effect that it has had on Greenfinches in recent years.
Rescue Centres tend to see it more in pigeons and doves, as well as the Birds of Prey that feed on these birds such as Sparrowhawks, Kestrels and Tawny Owls. It is most prevalent in warm, damp weather, particularly late Summer/early Autumn.
Characterised by yellow/white lesions in the mouth and throat of the bird, a thick, mucoid saliva and swellings around the eyes, the organism will grow until eventually the bird cannot feed properly and dies of starvation or predation. The more advanced the disease is, the more difficult it is to treat.
Other signs of the disease that would be noticeable to members of the public would be birds that have dirty looking beaks with patches of wet feathers around the beak area and swollen eyes. Any birds that have difficulty swallowing food are fluffed up, lethargic and slow to fly off will also need help. It should be noted that this is a disease of birds only and cannot be passed on to cats, dogs, rabbits or humans.
Young pigeon (squab) showing classic signs of ailment

It is believed that the increase in the spread of this disease in recent years is due partly to a lack of hygiene around bird feeding and watering stations. A bird with trichmoniasis drinking from a bird bath is likely to pass the disease on. If caught early, this disease can be treated either with Carnidazole or Metronidazole by an experienced rehabilitator.
You can help combat the spread of this disease:-
  • Disinfect and dry out your feeders for 48 hours (really important to ensure all cracks and crevices are completely dried out), then

  • Clean and disinfect bird tables and bird baths, weekly

  • Change drinking water daily

  • Spread feed stations out to reduce crowding

  • Make drainage holes in any exposed tables to prevent moisture build up
all images copyright Bedfordshire Wildlife Rescue - reproduced here with permission of the founder

01 August 2011

The issue - a Badger Cull; To me - answer is Black & White

Firstly I'd like to thank all organisations for the information available, which I've been able to find about the Badger Cull; and a special thanks to Violet from the RSPCA for contacting me and supplying information so that I could write this blog with as much accuracy as possible.

It completely dumbfounds me that, even though there is overwhelming evidence against culling, that it has even got to the stage of needing a decision to be made, to 'test' theories, by killing these amazing creatures in the first place. 

During the Welsh appeal court hearing it was clarified the government was only expecting a tiny 9% reduction in bTB; and two of the three judges said this didn't amount to a "substantial" reduction in disease - and that's what's required in law to kill badgers, which are a protected species. 
So if a cull 'could' deliver a 9% cut, would it not be more cost effective, fairer on the badgers, the cattle and the farmers to concentrate on the 91% which everything else would deliver and come closer to the eradication of this disease? Another point raised in all the scientific evidence is the fact that any type of cull could actually increase the spread of the disease and actually make matters worse...this being the case, how many badgers would have to be murdered to achieve the 9% reduction?

Below is a copy of a Wildlife Trust document part of a Final Report from EFRA

Badger Cull - Latest from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Select Committee report on badgers and cattle TB
The Wildlife Trusts national position, supported by Durham Wildlife Trust, is outlined below.
The Wildlife Trusts accept bTB in cattle is a significant problem for farming in the UK and that urgent action is required to combat the disease.  The Trusts particularly recognise the important role the livestock industry can play in the environmentally sensitive management of the countryside, and the serious disruption and anxiety caused to farmers experiencing a herd breakdown.
The Wildlife Trusts are pleased the EFRA committee agrees that the following measures must be rigorously enforced to control bTB:
  • More frequent cattle testing, with more frequent and targeted combined use of the tuberculin skin test and the gamma interferon test
  • The evaluation of post-movement cattle testing
  • Greater communication with farmers on the benefits of bio-security measures
  • The deployment of badger and cattle vaccines, when they become available
  • Continued work on the epidemiology of the disease.
However, The Wildlife Trusts believe that a cull would be impractical due to the conditions suggested by the report: 
Culling would need to be:
·         Over large areas (at least 265sq km, nearly the size of the Isle of Wight) – land ownership is so fragmented that this would be impossible
·         For sustained periods of time (at least four years) – it would be impossible to prevent badgers moving into culled areas for this period of time
·         Be co-ordinated – co-ordinating culling amongst so many landowners, particularly when some would not support a cull, would be impractical 
·         Be carried out competently and efficiently – having so many different landowners and managers carrying our culling means it would be impossible to ensure minimum standards of competence or efficiency
·         Be undertaken where there are natural boundaries to dispersal – badgers are known to cross man-made natural boundaries such as major roads and waterways

The Independent Scientific Group, set up by Government to look at this issue, concluded that, because they could see no situation where the conditions could be met, culling provides ‘no meaningful contribution’ and is ‘not cost effective’ as a control measure for combating bovine tuberculosis.
Can we combat this disease by cattle control measures alone?
Bovine TB levels in Northern Ireland have fallen by almost 40% since 2002 from a herd incidence of 9.93% to 6.23% in 2006.  Statistics suggest that the disease is continuing on a downward trend.  This has been achieved through strict enforcement of cattle based control measures and no culling of badgers.
Do we allow access to our nature reserves for badger culling?
We have a presumption against culling wildlife on all our reserves.  

So why again, with all this evidence and advice is the government taking a re-active stance and focusing on the 9%, rather than a pro-active stance and focusing on the 91%?

Badger facts:

Common Name European Badger
Scientific Name Meles Meles
Life Span Up to 14 years
Body Length 65-80cm, (25 inches - 31 inches)
Weight 8-12 kg
Physical Description Eurasian badgers are easily recognisable by the conspicuous black and white stripes running from the nose to the shoulders. They are stocky animals with short black legs and silvery grey backs.
Diet Badgers feed on earthworms, frogs, rodents, birds, eggs, lizards, insects, bulbs, seeds and berries.
Behavior Badgers are nocturnal and emerge from their setts at dusk. They live in family groups, of up to 12 individuals. Badgers live in underground burrows called setts which consist of several chambers, passages and entrances and are used by successive generations of badgers.

So the government have announced that they will go ahead with the widely ill advised badger cull. The details of how the government proposes to go about this cull are even worse than we imagined. They are relying on ‘ifs’ and making assumptions not based on evidence. At least 70% of the badger population in many areas will be killed many of them healthy. This decision comes in spite of scientific evidence* which shows that culling is a misjudged effort to control bovine TB; and will be of little help in reducing the disease long term and could actually make things worse!

My advice to all who oppose any kind of cull is to sign, shout, write and make voices heard in every corridor of Parliament. There are many organisations with campaigns against the cull; and it doesn't take long with a Google search to find many more than I have suggested:

  • the RSPCA are asking supporters to express their outrage at the decision in a tagging campaign via their main facebook page which will act as a petition of sorts. It is vital that we send a strong message to the government that bad science must not prevail. You can find more information at http://www.facebook.com/RSPCA They also have serious concerns on the licensing of farmers and landowners to free-shoot badgers. Shooting badgers is difficult as badgers have a very thick skull, thick skin and a very thick layer of subcutaneous fat and because of the short, squat body and the way their legs work, free-shooting means a high risk of wounding the badgers instead of killing them, causing a slow, painful death. The RSPCA believes that badgers are being made the scapegoats for a rise in bovine TB in cattle.

    • The government has announced plans to start culling badgers. There's been a big debate among 38 Degrees members about these culls. Some of us believe killing badgers would be wrong under any circumstances. Some of us believe that if the science really proved that shooting badgers could make a real dent in the cow TB problem, it would be a tragic necessity. But 87% of us agree on this: the government's current plans to shoot England's badgers simply don't stack up. The government’s own scientific advisers warn that it won't solve the problem of TB in cattle, and could even make it worse.Government scientists say that if a cull isn’t carried out “in a co-ordinated, sustained and simultaneous manner according to the minimum criteria, then this could result in a smaller benefit or even a detrimental effect.” The government is consulting on the plans right now. If we don't stop them, badger shoots could begin in a matter of months. Can you take 30 seconds now to add your name to the petition? http://www.38degrees.org.uk/page/s/badgers-petition
      • Brian May & Save Me - The present Coalition Government is preparing to grant farmers licences to kill our British badgers, in an attempt to control the spread of Bovine TB (bTB) in cattle. Morally, this is an indefensible atrocity - especially since it is due to cattle-farming that this disease has infected our ancient Badger population - which dates back to a time before Humans inhabited the British Isles. But it is also a scientific certainty that this CULL cannot work, and may well make matters worse for cattle. Thousands of innocent creatures are about to be slaughtered for nothing. http://www.brianmay.com/save-me/badgers/DEFRA_E-mailer.html

        • The League Against Cruel Sports opposes the proposed badger cull on two main grounds. Firstly, a cull would fly in the face of scientific evidence about how to control the spread of bovine tuberculosis, and could even exacerbate the problem. And secondly, authorising a cull would create a new bloodsport by licensing the shooting of badgers for gun-toting volunteers. We are calling for a badger vaccination programme instead of a cull. Just enter your details below to register your support for vaccinations and not extermination. We need 100,000 signatures to start a debate in parliament on the issue - but we think that's too easy so we want a million. Will you help us reach our target? https://www.e-activist.com/ea-action/action?ea.client.id=122&ea.campaign.id=10568

        Test kit - no bTB here!
        One more issue concerning the proposed cull and how it hasn't been thought through, is a question about the impact on wildlife rescue organisations; and within this area the many more questions that need answering. Every year wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centres across the whole country take in orphaned and injured badgers; these need releasing once either reared or treated. The proposed cull makes a complete mockery of what these organisations are trying to achieve. All centres test the badgers in their care for bTB before release. Will there be protocols in place to ensure that badgers proved not to carry the virus are not shot? What are rescue centres going to do with the badgers - do they keep them until cull is over? Do they go against protocol and release them away from areas they originally came from? Badgers live in family groups, of up to 12 individuals; they are territorial animals and each social group has its own distinctive scent. Individuals can not be released away from their original sett as this will possibly lead them to attack from others in that territory. How can these organisations, with their ethics, values and protocols, be 'forced' to release these animals into areas that the result of successful treatment and rehabilitation is to be immediately shot dead in the wild on release? In the whole scheme of things, rescue centres probably only deal with a small percentage of Badgers as a percentage of the English population; however, the cost to these centres is one that will not be replaced; not just in monetary terms but also in time and resources. Most of these centres run because of monetary donations from the animal loving public, because of food, equipment and staffing donated by the tax paying, animal loving public. Is all this time and money, voluntarily given by the public, also being considered in the total cost of an experiment that is opposed by a massive proportion of the same members of the public; the same public that these political parties want votes from? I totally understand the farmers dilemma; bTB is obviously a serious concern to their livelihoods. However, the bigger picture needs looking at seriously, forget about the small 9% and concentrate on working with the farmers, conservation groups, government bodies and concentrate on the solutions to tackle the 91% before a real tragedy takes place. Once dead the badgers cannot be replaced, lets not wipe out a creature we have taken years to protect.
        In my mind there is only one answer - and it's black & white. 
        !!!!Please save the badger!!!! Make your objections heard!!!!

        Additional Info:
        •       Indiscriminate killing could mean that 70% of local badger populations could be wiped out, many of them healthy
        •       Government has chosen to ignore science and public opinion and approve free shooting of badgers
        •       40,000 recorded objections to a badger cull in England from the RSPCA alone
        •       Free-shooting means a high risk of wounding the badgers instead of killing them, and causing a slow, painful death
        •       Independent Scientific Group: ‘badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain.’
        •       A 2006 consultation showed 95% of respondents were opposed to a cull
        •       Research over a decade cost taxpayers £50 million and cost the lives on 11,000 badgers is being ignored by DEFRA

        *The Independent Scientific Group on cattle TB (ISG) published its final report in 2007.  It was the result of
        painstaking research over nearly ten years, cost the lives of about 11,000 badgers and cost taxpayers £50 million. It concluded that killing badgers could actually increase the spread of bTB in the area around the cull, making matters worse rather than better – a process called perturbation.  It said, “badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain”

        07 July 2011

        To release or not release...that is the question

        Hi All, I've had a few enquiries lately about when and how animals that have been cared for are released back into the wild. So thought I'd put a post up here suggesting and explaining the importance of getting this right. 
        In general, there are two types of release, hard and soft (honest this is not about German movies!!) and there is a big difference between the two. Hard release is generally what rescuers and rehabbers do with animals that come in as casualties; animal comes in with something wrong, it's treated, rehabilitated and released back to where it came from. As I said this a general description and other factors could facilitate a casualty being a candidate for soft release i.e, length of rehabilitation etc. Soft release is generally used for any animal that has been orphaned and needs to be hand reared or have a fair amount of human contact. These animals have no knowledge of the big outside world or how to cope in the wild; since they were tiny we have replaced their parents, fed them, cared for them, weaned them and got them to a stage where release back to the wild is considered. This to me is one of the most important parts of rehabilitating wildlife; if we get the release wrong then all the hard work put in to ensure the animal is ready will be completely wasted and undone. Soft release is all about acclimatising the animal to it's natural environment and allowing natural instincts to develop to ensure the best chance of survival for the animal. Basically, soft release is about setting up a controlled natural environment to aid this transition; it would probably start with an enclosure suitable for the animal to explore it's natural surroundings with the extreme minimum of human contact if any at all. Once in an appropriate enclosure all the human involvement should be is to provide food and water to allow the animal to become 'wild'. Depending on the species this period in an enclosure could last probably between 2 - 6 weeks. After this time the entrance to the enclosure is permanently left open, food is still provided, however, the animal is now free to leave when it likes. Providing food still, allows the animal a choice and, until it's fully learnt to feed for itself, a guaranteed meal that it can come back to. Food is gradually stopped and hopefully a successful transition and subsequent release has taken place.

        It has to be remembered that orphaned hand reared animals have not had the benefit of Mum to teach them how to hunt or kill prey, forage for food; they have not felt grass or run up trees, would not seen a bird or a worm; they have most likely been kept in a cage, glass tank or wooden pen so to release them straight into the wild is going to be more stressful than anything else. Remember how you felt being left on your first day of school, everything unfamiliar, new and daunting. It is our responsibility as rescuers/rehabbers to ensure the best possible start to their wild lives as possible; this means know and understand the species you are dealing; if you've reared or rescued an animal you now have the responsibility to ensure it has the best chance possible to survive in the wild, we can never replace Mum, but we can do our utmost to ensure they have the best chance we can provide. If you are unsure do your research or just ask someone who knows, please don't guess. Most rehab organisations are more than willing to help no matter how big or small they are.
        It is very important that animals are released back to where they were found, including youngsters which have had to be reared. There is definitely a responsibility to ensure the development of species within different areas to ensure the natural balance is kept. There are probably a few exceptions, but in general they should all go back to where they come from. Also soft release has to be adapted to the species you are rearing, that's where knowledge about that species comes in to play.

        Sorry for going on a bit and length of the post...to me this is an extremely important part of the rehab process and could be the difference between survival and being immediately eaten by the first predator that comes along.

        Hope you enjoyed the read!!

        27 April 2011

        Take away that worry and that strife....

        Orphaned Hedgehog...yes they do come that small!!
        Right now it's the busy season; known as orphan time for wildlife rescue centres up and down the country. There are rescues to go out on, animals to treat, babies to feed, cages to clean, release sites to organise; as well as meetings to attend and never ending fundraising. During the next few months everyone will be helping to rear and prepare baby animals for the 'Big Wild'. All the rescue organisations from the largest, right down to the Old Lady with her Hedgehog rescue in the shed, will be getting progressively noisier with all the chirps, tweets, growls and barks of all the young ones that have ended up on their doorsteps and all wishing there were more hours in the day. 

        Fox release, Redhill, Surrey
        Probably now more than ever they need your help, it's your chance to help make that difference for wildlife. You can help ease the financial burden and take away any worry so they can concentrate on getting the wildlife back to the wild. Not just by donating money, (but I'm sure they won't refuse!) but supplying the centres with the small things that they need; tins of cat/dog food, dog/cat biscuits, bird seed, newspapers, towels, feeding bottles, heat mats, pet bowls....the list is endless; and you may not have to spend any money or leave your home to get these things, why not use those Nectar points, Tesco vouchers, order what's needed on-line and get it delivered straight to the centre. All you have to do is find your local rescue centre (Google is free!) and give them a call, search for their website; ask them what they need and for very little effort, expenditure or time, you can really make a huge difference. Help alleviate the worry, especially in these tough financial times, and allow the rescue centres and their armies of dedicated volunteers to really concentrate on getting these animals back out to the wild where they belong.

        Another success story following hours of dedication

        With every rescue, with every animal brought in, there's the heartache of the ones lost and the jubilation of the ones that are saved and released back to the wild. Emotions and mental health is always tested to the maximum. It's a roller coaster ride every week, every day. In the past I've rescued a Heron that died 24hrs later, treated a Fox that I thought wouldn't make it and now with its pinned leg is doing fantastically, released 2 swans after they had flown into a power line and a fence, watched another fox give up its fight for life after so much time had been spent trying to save it, had a blackbird die in my hands, been bitten by a hedgehog that didn't move when it was rescued and is now well on the way to recovery, one Owl put to sleep and another released following a full recovery from a broken wing. But I, like loads of other rescuers and rehabilitators, wouldn't give any of this up for the world. I like to think I'm making a difference, doing my small bit for the little creatures that have no voice of there own. Helping preserve the future for our 'taken-for granted' wildlife and you can do the same. Help take the pressure off and go MAD4wildlife today.

        05 December 2010

        'There's a frog stuck under the ice in my pond.....'

        Even though I've been involved in Wildlife Rescue for a good few years now, there is still plenty to learn and a knowledge base that needs to be extended and updated continuously. 
        The shortfalls and gaps in my knowledge were shown about 2 nights ago following a call on the 'out of hours' advice line. The call from a lady, was about a Frog found under frozen ice in her garden pond; she had managed to rescue it and was not sure what to do next. She had it in a tub and the Frog had been extremely lethargic when taken from the pond, but was now getting more lively.....
        Now to be honest I didn't have a clue. Amphibians are not regular patients at the centre and I suppose I'd never really thought about having to rescue one before. Ask me about Badgers, Foxes, Owls, Buzzards or Swans, Pigeons and Hedgehogs and I know exactly what to do. My mind was now full of questions; Should it be put back or kept? Can Frogs survive freezing water? Did it need to go to a rescue centre for recuperation until after the cold snap? So after apologising for my lack of knowledge, I told the lady I'd get back to her as soon as possible after I had done some urgent research!

        Nellie the Newt - a rare wildlife casualty brought to the centre.

        Now what I'm about to share with you is what I found out and also provide links to relevant information about Amphibians. This I hope you will find useful whether you work in Wildlife Rescue or not.

        Firstly the short answer - Put the Frog back - now I'll expand and explain:
        • Male frogs often lie dormant at the bottom of ponds during winter, they’re prone to dying when the ponds freeze over. This is a relatively common phenomena called ‘winterkill‘, but is more likely to occur this year due to the severity of the freezing weather.
        • Frogs slow down their metabolism when lying dormant, and breathe through their skin. Plants in the pond produce oxygen through photosynthesis and this process is still possible even if a pond is covered in ice. So they (the Frogs) can still survive if the pond freezes over. However, lots of leaf litter in a pond produces and releases noxious gases as it decomposes thus starving the pond of oxygen and killing the Frogs. Also should snow cover the pond, it prevents the plants from photosynthesising, gases can again build up in the pond with the same result.
        So what can we do to help our little amphibian friends during these cold winter months? I discovered an organisation called 'Amphibian and Reptile Conservation' (ARC) http://www.arc-trust.org/
        This site is a hive of information, not only on amphibians but also reptiles in the UK and a must resource for anyone involved in Wildlife Rescue, Wildlife Conservation or anyone wanting to set up and maintain a pond in their garden. Below you'll find what ARC suggests we should do with frozen ponds to help amphibians survive the winter months:
        • Make a hole in the ice by leaving a pan of hot water on the surface, allowing the base of the pan to melt a hole. 
        • Leave a plastic ball in the hole overnight, and remove it the following morning when the pond surface has refrozen. This enables noxious gases to leave the pond. 
        • ARC also warns against smashing, or pouring hot water on the ice, or adding chemicals (particularly salt). All of these methods can cause serious damage to pond life
        So there you have it, quite a simple solution and explanation, yet it was one that eluded me - perhaps it was short sightedness on my part, ignorance or just not understanding that when I put my hand up to say, 'I care about, love and want to help wildlife' - it means ALL wildlife. It doesn't matter whether its feathered, furry, scaly, flies, walks, swims, as big as a Red Deer or as small as a Stag Beetle; I/we owe it to all critters to understand what they are about, where they live, what they eat and what can be done to ensure there lives on this planet are as enjoyable and stress free as our own. I passed this information on to the lady and now the Frog is happily back in its pond...although, personally, the bottom of a pond is the last place I'd want to be in this weather!
        I hope that someone reading this finds it useful, can put the knowledge you may gain into practice and hopefully go on to helping another beautiful creature.
        The ARC website is a terrific site with so much information about Amphibians and Reptiles, I've learnt loads from it; did you know we have 7 species of Amphibian native to this country or that Leatherback Turtles are regarded as native to British waters?
        They also have some useful downloads like this snake identification chart -
        Give them a visit and maybe even show your support 

        04 December 2010

        Feeding Wildlife in Winter - How and What to Feed Wild Animals

        We all enjoy the snow and have some great fun but at this time of year wildlife really struggles to find food. Educating ourselves to provide for the most common species is essential if we really wish to help and make a difference.
        Rather than type forever about how to do our bit for Wildlife during the cold winter months, Daphne Green has already done it! Click the link below and go M.A.D (make a difference) for Wildlife.
        ....and don't forget the most important thing; ENJOY your wildlife!!
        Take care

        Feeding Wildlife in Winter - How and What to Feed Wild Animals