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Content Updated: 4th June 2017

SEASONAL UPDATE: June 2017

New Forest sunrise

Summer is officially, or at least meteorologically, here! We had a taste of summer last month, with some very warm and dry weather. Indeed, some parts of the UK had their lowest spring rainfall on record and the Met Office released figures showing that last winter was the driest in the UK for 20 years. Kew Gardens had 6mm of rain in April, compared to a seasonal average of 45mm, while Edinburgh had only 4mm when they could normally expect about 40mm – April was the driest for 75 years in Edinburgh. Despite the largely dry and sunny weather to start May, the same blocking high pressure system anchored to the north of the UK that kept most of the rain away also resulted in a pesky east or north-easterly wind that prevented it from feeling all that warm. Low pressure eventually swept over during the middle of the month, bringing heavy rain and thunderstorms. May finished on a dry, sunny and warm note, with daytime highs in the mid-to-high 20s Celsius in south eastern England and night-time highs in the mid-teens. Further north, Scotland and Northern Ireland saw more cool, wet and windy weather until the end of the month, when the whole UK was basking in temperatures in the high 20s Celsius. The long range forecasts are suggesting a realignment of the jet stream that would allow pressure to build over the UK this month, bringing dry and warm conditions to most.

If you want to get out and about this month, as usual, the Wildlife Trusts have a series of nature-themed events up and down the country, as do the RSPB. If you feel like being proactive and live near the coast, Surfers Against Sewage are looking for people to organise cleans of their local beaches – details here. The Forestry Commission are also running a series of events this month, details of which can be found here.

Roe deer kid hidingMammals: Fox cubs are growing fast and, with most being eight or nine weeks old, they can be found exploring further from their earths now. The parents are still busy trying to supply food for their ever-hungry brood; the stress that this puts them under (particularly the vixen, who may still be producing milk to supplement the cubs’ diet) starts to show and they lose condition. I’ve seen a few photos on Facebook lately posted by people who are worried that their visiting fox has mange when it is actually just a worn-out animal looking ‘tatty’. Mange is, nonetheless, a significant problem for foxes and the drain put on the parents by the cubs may make them more susceptible to infection. If left un-treated mange can be fatal. You can find out more in my article on the subject.

Badger cubs are getting quite big now and are increasingly seen out playing around the sett. If you’re out in the woods and spot a small badger bouncing around then it’s a youngster; adults never seem to do this. June is invariably the month of the baby deer and it is important to emphasise an interesting facet of deer behaviour: the mother leaves her youngster lying up in cover (right), typically long grass or bracken, returning periodically to suckle it. If you stumble across a baby deer lying on its own PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH IT; it hasn’t been abandoned - this is exceptionally rare - it’s simply keeping a low profile waiting for its mother to come back and feed it. Every summer many rescue centres end up caring for deer that well-meaning but misguided dog walkers have brought in. Elsewhere in the mammal world, there are lots of baby rabbits around now and my local hares are starting to resume courtship behaviour, the chasing and boxing that we normally associate with March but that actually happens throughout the year. We’re having regular nightly visits from hedgehogs at the moment and there’s plenty of small mammal (bank vole, wood mouse, etc.) activity too. If you’re out on the coast, keep an eye out for sheltered bays, which are favoured spots for common seals to give birth to their pups this month.

Birds: Late May and early June are the best time for fledglings and you’ve probably already had some in your garden. Newly fledged blackbirds, starlings, robins, great tits, blue tits, goldfinches and coal tits are around at the moment. I heard my first tawny owlet of the year at the end of last month, but unfortunately couldn’t locate it among the increasingly dense foliage here in the New Forest. Tawny owls are among the first owlets to branch. Barn owl chicks are growing fast, although it will be another few weeks before they fledge. Many goshawks will be fledging this month and they’re a little easier to track down as there’s a great deal of calling.

There are plenty of cuckoos calling on the New Forest and lots of trees seem to be home to greater spotted woodpecker chicks not far off fledging. I’m hearing chiff-chaffs almost everywhere I go at the moment and the sedge warblers are in fine voice at some of my local haunts. A trip to your local pond is usually worthwhile in June as most of the waterfowl, notably mute swans, moorhens, coots and great crested grebes, will have young now. Other species to keep an eye out for include ospreys (in the north of the country, or heading north), hobbys, little owls, swallows, swifts, martins, various warblers, nuthatch, and flycatchers. If you’re out in the woods at night, listen for the bubbling churr of nightjars, which are now arriving back in the UK, and the roding flights of male woodcock.

Reptiles and amphibians: I have seen several photos of well-developed tadpoles in garden ponds in the last couple of weeks, but those in our pond are only now starting to get leg buds, which may reflect the colder spring. As tadpoles start growing legs their protein requirements increase significantly and they take on a more predaceous nature. If you have a small pond, adding a small cube of steak on a piece of cotton can spark a feeding frenzy and help expedite the tadpole's development. The video below was shot in my pond this time last year. If the weather stays warm this development should continue apace and warm, wet nights in June are good times to head to your local pond with a torch and search for emerging froglets and toadlets. Most adult frogs have now vacated ponds, preferring to spend their time in wood piles or long grass – in our garden, the frogs are almost invariably either in the long grass by the edge of the pond or the wood pile and only tend to venture back into the water at night.

The warm nights of late have meant that reptiles don’t need to bask for as long (if at all) before heading off to hunt, and this makes snake spotting a bit more difficult – your best chance is early or late on very warm days. All our reptile species are now in their breeding season and I have seen lots of photos of slowworms entangled, with one having seized hold of the other’s head; males bite the female’s head during courtship. I also saw a couple of reports of sand lizards laying eggs at the end of last month, so hopefully this will result in some youngsters later in the summer. Male sand lizards will now be in their striking green breeding colours.

Burnt-tip orchidInvertebrates: There are still lots of wolf spiders around carrying little white or blue ‘balls’; these are egg sacs containing developing spiderlings. Wolf spiders are devoted mothers and she’ll rotate the sac periodically to ensure both sides get enough sun (warmth). She’ll also break open the egg sac to add water (in the form of saliva) to prevent the spiderlings becoming dehydrated. When the spiderlings hatch out they will cling to their mother’s abdomen for a week or so and she’ll carry them around. I have also seen a few people post photos of balls of tiny black and yellow spiders asking what they are. They’re baby European garden spiders - quite harmless and will disperse into the surrounding vegetation in a day or two. There are lots of molluscs around and most nights there is some slug and snail control to be done in our garden.

There are lots of butterflies and moths around at the moment, including many hawk moths. When moths are seen standing or hanging back to back they are mating and may stay in that position for several hours, providing an opportunity for close study. Some of the Lepidoptera to look out for this month are the striking black-and-red scarlet tiger moths and various species of large hawk moth including the camo-marked lime hawk moth and the striking pink-and-green elephant hawk moth. The day-flying magpie moth, with its orange and black spotted white wings, is airborne now. June is also a good time to look for stag beetles and to head off to woods or parkland after dark to search for glowworms. Scorpion flies are also around during this month; the males of this large yellow-and-black winged insect (actually members or the lacewing family, rather than true flies) have a reddish-brown reproductive organ that looks very similar to a scorpion’s sting.

Plants and fungi: June is a great month for orchids and we were out photographing some at a local nature reserve at the end of last month. Some to look out for this month include the diminutive bee orchids, lanky lesser butterfly orchids, bog orchids, heath spotted orchids (many past their best by now), burnt-tip (right) and early purple orchids. The New Forest is still fairly well endowed with foxgloves at the moment, and ragged robin provides a splash of pink to pasture and damp rides. There is also plenty of sundew out now; look for this striking red carnivorous plant in damp areas around ponds and in bogs. A splash of purple and yellow is added to the countryside by cranesbill (a type of geranium) and yellow rattle, respectively. Elder is in bloom this month and a magnet for various species of bee and hoverfly, so it’s always worth checking their delicate white blooms for insect visitors.

There isn’t much in the way of fungi in our woodlands yet, not least because it has been a very dry spring, although the fruiting season has just started for some including the deep purple amethyst deceiver, the bright yellow chanterelle, and the golden-brown honey fungus. Chicken of the woods also fruits this month.

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Feature of the Month – Repealing the Hunting Act

In the run-up to the general election that’s happening in the UK on 8th June, our political parties have been out campaigning to win votes. Around the middle of last month something of a furore erupted in the UK media and on social media when it was suggested that, if the Conservatives win a strengthened majority as most opinion polls predict they will, Prime Minister Theresa May would offer a free vote to MPs on the 2004 Hunting Act. Foxes and hunting are both highly contentious issues in their own right in Britain and each has the power to stimulate significant debate; the subject of hunting foxes is perhaps the most contentious of all. Many sceptics have suggested that this was merely floated as a distraction from other aspects of government policy, ‘burying bad news’ as I’ve seen it called, but it has caused a considerable public backlash.

A survey by the polling company Ipsos MORI in December 2016 reported that 84% of respondents supported the hunting ban. Similarly, an online poll by ITV last month suggested similar public support for the ban; at the time of writing, 51,000 people had voted and 81% were in favour of keeping the Act. As such, it is broadly considered unlikely that the Act would be repealed by MPs, although some local candidates have stated publicly that they would vote in favour of repealing the Act to ‘control foxes’. During the various debates I have seen, however, the same old arguments and misconceptions arise, and I thought this was an opportune time to provide some science-based balance to the subject. The following Q&A-style appraisal covers some of the most common statements I have seen in recent days.

Red foxWhat is the Hunting Act?
Introduced under Tony Blair’s Labour government in 2004, the Hunting Act was an attempt to regulate the manner in which hunting of several mammal species (notably foxes, deer, hares and mink) was carried out in England and Wales. MPs voted 61% in favour and 30% in opposition and the Act became law on 18th February 2005. The Act prohibits the hunting of these mammals with dogs, but does allow the use of dogs to flush the quarry so it can be shot or killed by a bird of prey. In most cases, only two dogs can be used to flush.

The Countryside Alliance have long pointed out that “The Act makes it an offence to hunt a mouse with a dog but not a rat, you can legally hunt a rabbit but not a hare. You can flush a fox to guns with two dogs legally but if you use three it's an offence.” When reviewing the Act, however, MPs considered it unnecessary to hunt mice with dogs. One wonders, too, where the logic of saying it’s legal with x dogs but illegal with x+1 ends? It’s legal to flush with four but not five, with 10 but not 11, with 99 but not 100? A line must surely be drawn somewhere for legislation to be a possibility. Finally, it might be argued that the motivation behind rabbit hunting and hare coursing is entirely different – the former being about pest control and the latter being much more frequently about sport, with significant amounts of money changing hands.

 

Theresa May was quoted as saying fox hunting is not about cruelty, but about controlling fox numbers. Is this true?
This is not supported by the existing evidence. Estimates of fox mortality in Britain suggest that hunting with hounds accounted for only a very small percentage of the number killed. In Britain, 2001 saw an outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease that imposed restrictions on livestock movement and prevented mounted hunts operating for about a year. Despite concerns that the fox population would “explode” in the absence of this hunting pressure, a survey by biologists at the University of Bristol registered no change in the fox population in response to this temporary cessation. Indeed, survey data collected by the British Trust for Ornithology suggests that rural foxes have been in decline since about 1995, with a sharp drop since 2010. Anecdotal evidence suggests that farmers and gamekeepers are feeling the need to ‘hammer’ foxes harder than before to take up slack left in the wake of mounted hunts. If this is indeed the situation, a resumption of hunting could paradoxically result in an increase in fox populations.

Historically, hunts have a long history of supporting fox populations by moving foxes around the country and bringing them in from abroad as numbers have fallen low. They have also constructed artificial earths to help bolster the population of their quarry. There have been various claims that such activities persist today, although these claims are equally widely denied. If they do, such practices undermine claims of population control.

Ultimately, there is no evidence that mounted hunts play any significant part in the control of foxes and the science suggests that collaborative localised shooting plans are the only effective method of reducing fox populations.

Eurasian lynxFox hunting most closely mimics the natural effects of missing apex predators. It helps keep the fox population at a healthy and sustainable level
In Britain adult foxes have very few (arguably no) natural predators; they may sometimes fall foul of badgers or golden eagles, but such cases appear rare. Elsewhere in the world foxes are displaced by both coyotes (in North America) and lynx (in northern Europe - right). In the case of coyotes a chase, catch and kill method may be employed, while lynx are ambush predators and don’t appear to chase foxes down. To the best of my understanding, neither coyotes nor lynx make prolonged chases; nor do they attempt to dig out foxes that have retreated underground. Furthermore, being ‘natural’ does not invariably translate to ‘preferred’ or ‘better’. In the US, for example, many deer are killed by chronic wasting disease; a disease in the same class as BSE (‘mad cow disease’) and scrapie that causes a progressive loss of condition in the deer and, eventually, death. The cause of this disorder isn’t known, but it is hypothesised that a mutated protein is to blame and, assuming so, it can probably be considered natural mortality – that doesn’t, however, mean it’s a better way for a deer to die than, say, having a heart attack swimming a river, freezing to death during winter, or being shot during hunting season.

Do mounted hunts remove the old/sick/weak foxes?
This raises the question of how the fox is chosen. When contracted to carry out pest control on a farm, for example, a stalker will often spend time surveying the area and watching the movement of the local foxes to identify the problem individual, which is then shot. More foxes may be shot, according to the landowner’s request. I have found no evidence to suggest that mounted hunts attempt the same degree of selectivity to target known problem, weak or sick individuals. (I would be very interested to hear from anyone who knows different.) Assuming this to be the case, it seems unlikely that the hunt can even be sure that the fox they kill is the same fox that they started chasing, which appears to undermine the argument that the activity is selective. Indeed, the observation that foxes are sometimes accidentally killed by hounds on a drag hunt suggests that the hounds do not exclusively follow an initial scent trail.

Recent prosecutions of hunts for raising foxes believed to be subsequently used for hunting purposes (these ‘bagged foxes’ have long been reported) adds further doubt to the suggestion that mounted hunts are a wildlife management tool. It may also be argued that hunts take the weak/sick individuals, because stronger/fitter animals get away. The practise of digging out foxes that have gone to ground, however, suggests luck has at least as much to do with a fox’s chances of escaping as its health.

Foxes are ruthless predators in their own right. Who cares how they’re killed?
About four-fifths of the population, according to the recent poll for ITV. Moreover, the manner of control says more about the person carrying it out than the animal being targeted. A friend of mine summed this up nicely a couple of years ago when she said:

Foxes may have to be culled in some cases as an objective economic necessity to protect livestock, but there's something unhealthy and disturbing in making a party of it.

Foxes aren’t afraid of us anymore and this makes them dangerous
Many people seem to think that animals should have a healthy respect for humans, should respect their property and keep their distance unless invited to approach. Unfortunately for this presumption, a side effect of living in close proximity to humans who, on the whole, represent no danger, is that animals become less wary. Foxes in particular are highly adaptable animals and they can readily assess a situation as dangerous or benign, responding accordingly. There’s no point wasting valuable energy running away if there’s nothing that needs running away from.
In theory, failing to run away from people could lead to direct interactions that end badly, if the fox or the person misjudges the situation. In general, though, bolder doesn’t mean more dangerous, and we see this every day with dogs and cats that we come across. I’ve passed many this week on my walk to work, none of which have run and at no point have I felt threatened. Moreover, given the stats, a dog or cat is more likely to attack me than a fox is.

Yawning foxFoxes kill for fun
I think people expect too much of wildlife. Humans have a pretty well defined moral and ethical code, albeit varying from culture to culture. Most of us were brought up by our parents to know right from wrong and, as parents, try to instil the same in our children. We know that it takes children a while to know what they should and shouldn’t do, and many test the boundaries as they approach their teens. Those of us who have owned a dog also realise that we have to train our pet to conduct itself in a manner we consider appropriate – come when called, sit when asked, refrain from barking in certain situations, and so forth. When it comes to wildlife, however, and particularly foxes in my experience, we seem to simply expect them to understand and conform to these rules. We expect that the universe should care that we, as clever primates, want to keep chickens, rabbits, guinea pigs etc. in our gardens without fear of predators eyeing them up. We’re humans after all; the most important and powerful species on the planet. If they fail to toe the line and behave in a way we don’t understand or appreciate, we brand them evil or malicious and consider this affront worthy of the death penalty. The truth, though, is that the universe doesn’t care about us, and that foxes have no conception or appreciation for our moral code or desires. The rabbits in your garden look and behave just like the ones living on the school playing field, but yours are penned in, which makes them easier to catch.

We humans have a desire to understand things. A facet of the human condition is to ascribe meaning, which helps us cope with the uncertainty and variability of the world in which we live. Things are a lot less scary when you understand what’s happening; perhaps you could even predict or avoid some events. Centuries ago this was ascribing volcanic eruptions to angry gods, or weird lights in the sky to aliens. Even today many millions of people believe in a life after this one because it helps deal with the fear many of us have of death. So, when we come across a situation we don’t understand our brain tries to ascribe meaning, but in some cases we get it wrong. Predators are an excellent example of this. Because by their very nature they kill other animals to survive, and sometimes this behaviour can go into overdrive with results that we find disturbing. (Photo: On several occasions I have seen photos like this accompanying articles about bold/dangerous/pest foxes in the media and presume many will interpret it as a fox growling or snarling. In fact, this fox is mid-yawn. Invariably such photos are actually of foxes yawning or chewing. I have only come across one photo of a fox making what could be described as a snarl and that was an animal with rabies in the USA. Even when fighting, foxes neither growl nor snarl.)

Let’s say a fox goes after a rabbit. Its predatory behaviour is triggered by the sight of the prey; it sees, stalks, chases and kills the rabbit. By the time it manages to catch the rabbit, the rest of the colony has disappeared underground and the fox trots off with its prize. If a fox breaks into a chicken coop and grabs a bird the others have nowhere to go; all the squawking and flapping of the remaining panicked birds continually stimulates the fox’s predatory drive, until they’re all dead. (We know this to be the case because in situations where birds have remained calmly on their nests and the fox has been unable to get out, the fox and birds are found alive and well the following morning.) The fox can carry only one chicken at a time and that assumes it can get its prize back out the hole through which it entered. If it can’t it has no choice but to abandon the bird(s). If the fox can get in and out, I have testimony from several chicken keepers that the fox comes back over subsequent nights to remove the rest.

Unfortunately, the situation that an owner arrives to the following morning can only be described as carnage. To the human mind, brought up believing that killing is wrong and taking more than you need is selfish or greedy, surely there can be no explanation other than wanton bloodlust? It’s made worse because these are our pets, members of our family. It feels like a deliberate assault on us. It’s not, though. Foxes do what they’re programmed to do, without thought or concern for the feelings of their prey or the people who own it. They kill prey when they have the opportunity and, again given the opportunity, will take it and bury it for later use. The fact that we humans may not be able to get our heads around it doesn’t make it any less true.

Special pleading for the fox? Not really. It’s education. Managing expectations as corporate management say.

Rabbits in New ForestI’ve seen foxes walk past rabbits and take a lamb mid-birth
This again assumes foxes should see animals owned by humans as somehow off limits. We expect foxes to hunt certain things, ideally things that don’t make us upset or uncomfortable, but, in the end, foxes are highly intelligent and adaptable predators that won’t pass up the chance of an easy meal if one presents itself. I suspect, if we stop and think, many of us are the same. In our house my girlfriend does most of the cooking. When she’s away, I subsist mainly on salad boxes and cereal because, frankly, I’m too lazy to cook when I get in from work. I doubt I’m the only one, either.

Is it hunting with hounds cruel?
This will always be a contentious point. Hunt supporters cite that the lead dog’s natural instinct is to administer a "quick nip" to the back of the fox's head, which serves to kill the animal outright. (The argument goes that because a foxhound weighs between 70-80lbs, roughly four or five times that of a fox, and has a powerful jaw, a single bite is all that's required to kill the fox.) Those opposed to hunting, however, point to various veterinary pathologies conducted on foxes recovered after a hunt has passed through that indicate death by either disembowelment or multiple bite trauma, typically to the face or rump, and no indication that a bite to the neck has been inflicted. This method of attack is the common modus operandi for dogs.

Hunters argue that the fox does not anticipate death and so is not unduly traumatised by the pursuit. This is one of many unknowns. We cannot be certain what a chased fox is thinking or feeling.  For that reason, opponents of such hunting prefer to err on the side of caution and not subject the fox to such pursuit in the first place when there are other more efficient and humane methods of control. Then there is no question.

Fox hunting is a well-established tradition
Opponents are quick to point out that 150 years ago sports such as bear baiting, bull fighting and dog fighting were legal in Britain, and we sent children up chimneys as a matter of course until the mid-1800s. In other words, tradition is not a good argument for the continuation of something that is morally or socially objectionable.

A larger concern for many is that the Hunting Act is not just about foxes, it also prohibits hunting deer with hounds and hare coursing and there is concern any repeal would similarly legalise these practices, the latter of which is often undertaken by criminal gangs.

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Profile of the Month – Vale Wildlife Hospital founder Caroline Gould

Vale Wildlife LogoEstablished 34 years ago this month, Vale Wildlife is a busy and expanding wildlife hospital and rehabiliation centre based near Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire. The hospital sees some 4,000 to 4,500 patients each year and 2017 is on track to be the busiest yet, with 1,665 admissions by the end of last month. (To give some context, last year saw 1,287 admissions by the end of May, while 2015 saw 1,102.) This month Vale's founder Caroline Gould takes a break from her hectic schedule to explain a bit about the hospital.

Tell us a little about yourself
I was born in Beckenham, Kent in 1958 and grew up in various urban locations, moving around as my father progressed his teaching career. Even as a young child I remember being interested in wildlife - my earliest memory was of a grey squirrel youngster that my brother found in a bucket in the local park. He brought it home and it spent the next few months causing havoc in our house until the time came to release it back into the park.

Of course, I am not alone in regarding Sir David Attenborough as my all-time hero and I think that watching his superb documentaries from a very young age really cemented my love for and respect of the natural world.

My father’s job resulted in our move to the Vale of Evesham in the early 1970’s and I have remained in the area since then.

I regrettably have to admit to being a rebel in my teens as, after my father took up the post of headmaster at the local grammar school and I was enrolled into the same school (I wanted to attend the high school in the town), and the next few years were a period of time that I wish I could have again and that I prefer not to think about.

Badger with leg castsHow did Vale Wildlife come about?
In the early 1980’s (by this time I was married with two young children) I was working in a local veterinary practice. Although working as a veterinary nurse, I was unqualified, but my intention was to take up the profession eventually.

I also kept captive-bred birds of prey at this time and our vet, knowing this, called me one day in June 1984 to ask if I could look after a tawny owl that had been hit by a car and needed somewhere to go for longer-term care. Of course, I agreed, and I started wondering just how many wild animals are injured or orphaned out there, and what happens to them. Asking around I found that invariably the answer was that they were ‘put out of their misery’.

With no internet in those days, I went to the local library, looking for any information about wildlife rehabilitation and the only book that I could find was Something In A Cardboard Box written by the late Les Stocker, who had started taking in wildlife in his back garden (a familiar story) just 6 years previously in 1978. I was hooked and I thought ‘If Les can do it, so can I’ and Vale Wildlife Hospital (Rescue in those days) was born.

If such a thing exists, what does an ‘average’ day for you involve?
There is no such thing as an average day in wildlife rehabilitation. Every day is different and throws new challenges at us.

Increasingly, my days are filled with more and more paperwork and administration but for the rest of the staff and volunteers at the hospital an ‘average’ day starts around 6am preparing the many and varied feeds for the animals in our care (between 200-600 casualties, depending on the time of year). From 7 am the phone starts to ring with people wanting advice or having found an injured animal.

A large part of a typical day is taken up with cleaning out and weighing patients - the daily weighing of animals gives the best indication of whether they are improving or whether there is a problem and every animal within the hospital is weighed on a daily basis.

When all this has been done, the meds rounds start. In each of our three ‘wards’, medications such as antibiotics, wormers, pain relief, fluids and much more need to be administered at least once a day.

Giving fluids to heronWhile all this is going on, we are also taking more calls, going on call-outs to casualties that cannot be transported by the finder, booking in new casualties, triaging and treating them, possibly x-raying to get a better idea of injuries, formulating feeding and medication regimes for them and settling them into an appropriate ward, or sometimes euthanising if their injuries are so severe that there is no hope of eventual release back into the wild.

The rest of the day continues in a similar way, with more feeding and more medications, and in the late afternoon the whole hospital is swept and mopped to keep it as clean as possible.

While most staff finish between 5 and 6 pm, one of our Care Assistants remains on-site for the whole night as we are open for casualties 24/7. In the spring and summer, a team of volunteers work through the evening to help with the feeding and cleaning of all the young birds and mammals in care.

What do you love about your job and why?
Although we treat around 4,500 casualties every year, it is a mere drop in the ocean but even so, we make a difference. Knowing that most of the problems that wildlife encounter are due to humans, it is good to make a tiny difference to the damage we are doing across the globe.

What’s the least favourite part of your job and why?
Apart from the paperwork and admin side of it, trying to secure the funding to continue and improve our work is my least favourite part of the job simply because it is so difficult. If we were open to the public and could charge a fee for people to come and see what we do it would be much easier. But because our patients are wild animals, susceptible to massive stress, our work goes on behind closed doors, making it very hard to attract major funds.

Are there any valuable lessons rescuing wildlife has taught you?
Doing less is often best. The more hands-off and the less handling and treatment you give, the better and quicker they will heal. Wild animals have amazing healing powers. Survival of the fittest is so true even when they are in captivity and they will often recover from horrendous injuries with very minimal intervention and treatment. Time is the most important thing we can give, time in a safe and comfortable environment is often all that is needed.

Wild animals never cease to amaze me.

Slug pelletsIf you could encourage the public to help their local wildlife, what simple things would you recommend?
All the usual things:

-- Respect and care for the natural world.
-- Don’t litter.
-- Make your garden wildlife-friendly.
-- Put out appropriate food and fresh water.
-- Don’t use pesticides.

Plus, study and learn from the wildlife in your garden, watch their interactions with other wildlife - their world is fascinating and you will learn a lot from just sitting and watching how they behave.Volunteer at your local wildlife rescue centre, get involved and do your bit to ‘fix’ some of the damage that we are all doing ;)

You can find out more about Vale Wildlife Hospital and Rehabilitation Centre on their website.

If you're interested in getting involved and being featured on here later this year, please get in touch via the normal route.

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As always, I love hearing from readers; any queries or comments regarding the information on the site can be sent in using the addresses on the Contact page. (Note: So: Some website questions are answered on the FAQ, while many animal-related questions are covered in the Q/A). Photos can be e-mailed to a dedicated e-mail address - please keep them coming and don't forget to check out my Photos Needed page. I'm also interested in hearing any reports of unusual behaviour in any of the animals featured on this site, or interactions between humans and wildlife. Thanks as always for your continued patience and support and thanks to Simon Currie for letting me use his photo of a Roe deer kid lying up on the New Forest.

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WildlifeonlineOkay, for those of you that are new to the site, let's take it from the top!

What is Wildlife Online?
Essentially, WLOL is an educational website about British wildlife. The site contains profiles of various British animal species, with new articles in preparation all the time. The site also has articles looking at wildlife-related subjects, including hunting and animal emotions. This site is purely a hobby of mine; it does not generate any money or contain any advertising and, for the time being at least, I am happy for it to stay that way.

What does Wildlife Online aim to achieve?
The ultimate goal of the website is to be useful. My intention has always been to provide un-biased, accurate information that’s accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. Increasingly people are coming into contact with their local wildlife and whether such interactions are positive or negative, they generally inspire a desire to learn more about the species. Moreover, there are still a great many misconceptions surrounding our wildlife (fox behaviour springs immediately to mind) and these are brought up time and time again during discussions in the media. Each article aims to provide a reasonably comprehensive overview of the species in question by drawing on information from the media, books, TV programmes and the scientific literature. I feel that this combination of sources, along with my own observations and those of my friends/colleagues/readers provides a unique online resource of British wildlife information. My hope is that the information provided here will go some way to changing people's perceptions of the creatures with which they share their parks and gardens.

Why create a website when there are books and TV programmes about your subjects?
Books can be a fantastic resource and I can't imagine being without my library. Not all libraries are, however, equally well stocked, and not everyone has the funds to splash out on what are often very expensive wildlife books (especially those written by scientists). More importantly, much of the scientific research never makes it out of the journals into books and TV shows. Similarly, many of the early books -- which contain some of the pioneering work on the species -- are now long out of print and can be difficult or expensive to track down. Books have the 'luxury' of being able to devote their entire contents to a particular species, covering all aspects of its life history. Television, by contrast, is a much more limited and variable medium: the programme editor(s) has to create a show that is likely to hold the viewers' attention and appeal to a very wide audience. The result is that, although some reach this compromise very well, many documentaries focus heavily on the 'wow factor' (multitudinous slow motion shots of Great whites leaping out of the water in pursuit of seals, for example) and this often comes at the inevitable expense of the information about the animal. Finally, both books and TV programmes go out of date quite quickly; new research is being conducted all the time. Consequently, a website is an ideal and dynamic intermediate - it offers the opportunity to provide a decent amount of information about the subject that can be updated at the metaphorical drop-of-a-hat as any new research is published.

Why include so much information?
I honestly believe that if a job is worth doing, it's worth doing well. There are hundreds of websites with brief species profiles and if that's all WLOL offered there would be little point to it. I understand and appreciate that some people find being confronted with large volumes of text very daunting while others are of the 'too long; didn't read' mind-set and will thus be turned off by the amount of text facing them. I have tried to remedy this as far as possible via two avenues: there is a Speed Read section with a brief profile of each species featured in a main article; and each article has been 'virtually split', with the aid of hyperlinks, into sections that allow people to easily jump to the information they're looking for. Ultimately, I want to provide as much information as is feasible in order to provide the reader with the clearest appraisal of each species or topic; I hope that most readers approve of this approach.

Why haven't you included a complete bibliography?
My intention with WLOL is to provide the information in an accessible format, which means that anyone should be able to read an article and understand the information in it. Consequently, I didn't want to format it as a scientific paper because the current format allows for a much more informal approach and writing style which, I hope, will appeal to a wider audience. Most people should find enough information in the article (I typically provide the name or one or more of the authors and the journal and year) to track down the original scientific paper. When I take information from books, I always give the name of the author(s) and the full title of the book for easy reference. I am also happy to provide full details of any of the references upon request.

Are you really qualified to do this?
I'm certainly not an expert on any of the subjects presented on this site. The articles stem from my varied interests in natural history and biological sciences. In terms of qualifications, I trained as a scientist (studying natural sciences at degree and postgraduate level) and all I really do is interpret information, blend it with associated research and personal observation, and present it in what I hope is an accessible format. Unless specifically stated, I do not claim any of the information on this site to be my own research. I have built relationships with some of the many diligent researchers who have produced the data that I use, and I am happy either to recommend an expert or provide my own opinions on a subject.

As a final note, I want to make a quick reference to the quality of the material on the site. The great French philosopher and mathematician, Rene Descartes, once said: "If you would be a real seeker of truth, you first must be willing to doubt as far as possible all things." This is very sage advice, especially when it comes to believing what you read on the Internet. Most Internet sites (indeed, some books and TV shows too), including this one, have no form of peer-review (i.e. nobody with experience of the topic checks the site for accuracy); consequently pretty much anyone can have their own little corner of cyberspace and information can make it onto websites that is either misguided, or downright false! When creating material for this site I take every care to ensure that the information I present is accurate. Invariably errors will creep in; typos are almost inevitable (although each article goes through several levels of proof reading before it appears online) and research is always underway on the species featured here, so the data can go out of date almost overnight. Each page has regular (ish!) reviews, however, during which I update the information, adding details of new findings and taking out that which is now thought highly unlikely. You can see most of the books I have used in the preparation of this site on the Recommended Reading page and I have provided links to some of the most interesting sites I came across during my research – these can be found under the appropriate sub-heading on the Links page.

Anyway, I digress.... I hope you enjoy looking around the site and I hope equally that you get something worthwhile out of it. Any comments, suggestions or (constructive) criticisms are welcome via e-mail - appropriate addresses can be found on the Contact page.

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DISCLAIMER: All the photographs and artwork on this site are either my own work or have been donated by readers. All images remain property of their authors and, if you wish to reproduce any of the pictures, consent must be granted by the appropriate person - requests can be directed via myself or see FAQ. For more details on the content of this site, please see the full WLOL Disclaimer.

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