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Organisation Reference The Wildlife Veterinary Investigation Centre
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This information has been provided by The Wildlife Veterinary Investigation Centre and is supplied in its original format.


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 Cornwall’s 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.

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 Trust’s 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 profit–making 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 in–depth investigations can be carried out.


The principal objectives will be to:-

  1. 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.
  2. 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 wild species.
  3. Continue research on otters. The Environment Agency’s 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 author’s 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.
  4. 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).
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

Outside links

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 author’s 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 Britain.

Dates Referenced August 2001
Contact Details

Vic Simpson BVSc, DTVM, CBiol, FIBiol, MRCVS
Jollys Bottom Farm,
Station Road,

Telephone 01872 560623

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