Unlike many countries, Britain does not have a
Department of Wildlife, or any other organisation with the remit to investigate health
problems in wild animals. English Nature has responsibility for wildlife
populations/diversity and, although it provides limited funds to the Zoological Society of
London for research on BAP listed species, it does not employ scientists, or have
facilities, for the study of diseases and causes of mortality in wildlife. The Centre for
Ecology and Hydrology (formerly Institute of Terrestrial Ecology) monitors levels of
certain pesticides and the Environment Agency also carries out environmental monitoring.
However, neither of these organisations, nor any of the conservation societies, employs a
wildlife pathologist. In the past most of this work has been carried out by a few
motivated individuals in MAFF Veterinary Investigation Centres. However, with recent
changes in policy this work has virtually ceased.
Although Cornwalls wildlife has survived relatively well, some species, such as
woodlark, cirl bunting and chough, have either become very rare or locally extinct. The
red squirrel, considered a pest species in the 1920s, has gone, the watervole has almost
gone and the brown hare, amongst others, may be going. However, there is general
recognition that populations of many wildlife species not just those listed as
endangered are also declining. Species such as redshank, housemartin and common
frog all appear to be less numerous than they were even twenty years ago. The reasons for
these population declines have not been investigated in the past, and there is no
indication that the situation will be better in the future.
It is against this background that the author, who will retire from MAFF in February
2001, will be setting up a centre in Cornwall to study wildlife health problems. The
centre will operate as part of Cornwall Wildlife Trust (CWT) and benefit from the
Trusts charitable status. However, although the Trust will assist in appealing for
donations and equipment, it will not be able to provide funds to help run the centre. It
is envisaged that some work will be funded on a contract basis but it is hoped that
sponsors may fund other work. It is not intended to run the centre as a profitmaking
business but, equally well, it cannot be run at a loss. Basic costs such as utilities,
waste disposal and reagents will have to be covered before any indepth
investigations can be carried out.
The principal objectives will be to:-
- Carry out detailed post mortem examinations on all suitable wildlife specimens,
irrespective of the apparent cause of death, and to monitor for evidence of disease.
- Build up a database of normal values for the anatomy, physiology, organ weights, etc for
wildlife. Such data is invaluable to pathologists but, as yet, does not exist for most
- Continue research on otters. The Environment Agencys contract to examine otters
from south west England is due for renewal in 2001. The author intends to bid for this
and, if successful will continue to provide feedback to the Wildlife Trusts Otters
and Rivers Project Officers in the South West. The authors existing database, which
is one of the most comprehensive in Europe, will be continually updated, existing research
projects will be expanded and new ones developed.
- Investigate wildlife mortality problems on behalf of conservation organisations and
others, eg Cornwall Bird Watching and Preservation Society, RSPB, Environment Agency.
Investigations in the past have included studies on drowned auks (for RSPB) and mute swan
mortality on the River Fal (Environment Agency).
- Liaise with specialist groups in CWT and other county trusts, eg Bat Group, Amphibian
Group and Mammal Group and provide feedback of investigations to them.
- Publish the results of investigations. This would involve writing simple summaries of
investigations for publication in the CWT quarterly Newsletter and, where appropriate,
publishing detailed findings in internationally recognised scientific journals.
The author has well-established links with the Departments of Veterinary Pathology in
both Liverpool and London Universities and is a part-time lecturer in Wildlife Pathology
at the latter. For some years he has collaborated with Exeter University, supplying
material for their otter DNA research program. He also has links with the RSPCA Wildlife
Hospitals, who have indicated their intention to submit specimens on a chargeable basis
when the Wildlife VIC is set up.
It is the authors belief that the centre will provide a better understanding of
wildlife health problems in the South West, and could act as a model for other parts of