The Garden Wildlife Health project (GWH) is a citizen-science project that will identify and investigate disease threats to the wildlife in gardens across the country, focusing on garden birds, amphibians, reptiles and hedgehogs.
We now know that disease can cause declines in wildlife populations and can even be responsible for the extinction of some species.
For example, veterinary scientists at the Institute of Zoology previously identified the emergence of trichomonosis in finches in Great Britain, and saw the greenfinch population decrease by a third in the last few years due to this disease.
By expanding health surveillance to other species that commonly visit gardens; GWH aims to monitor trends in their specific disease, measure their impact, determine underlying causes and identify new and emerging threats.
The information collected will allow us to understand the distribution and impact of these wildlife diseases throughout the country and provide science-based information on wildlife conservation.
GWH is a collaborative project between the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), Froglife, the Institute of Zoology (IoZ) at the Zoological Society of London and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).
It is funded by Defra and the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation. In additon, the GWH partners collaborate with a range of universities, governmental agencies, and non-government conservation organisations, including the British Hedgehog Preservation Society.
Recent surverys suggest that hedgehog populations in Great Britain have been declinging at an alraming rate, making them one of GWH’s top priority species.
Thus far, habitat loss and fragmentation,decreased prey availability and road kill appear to be some of the major factors involved.
Through GWH we will investigate if disease (either infectious or non-infectious, such as poisoning) is an important cause of hedgehog population decline.
In order to colelct information on hedgehogs, and other garden wildlife, a web-based wildlife disease surveillance system site has been created.
This allows anyone to register and report a disease incident in their garden (www.gardenwildlifehealth.org).
It will aslo allow you to register other sites if you wish to report something outside your garden.
This will allow the creation of a nationwide map showing where and when disease and mortality incidents occur.
Every report will contribute to this national database of wildlife disease.
If a freshly dead hedgehog (or any other of the listed spicies) is found, it can be made available to the specialist wildlife vets at the IoZ.
They will then conduct a post-mortem examination and further laboratory test to determine if a disease component might have been associated with its death.
The reports will be made available to the submitter as will any relevant information on what to do to keep the hedgehogs visiting your garden healthy.
For more information visit: www.gardenwildlifehealth.org