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Garden Wildlife Health project: helping wildlife to stay healthy

Spring has finally arrived and hedgehogs, toads and other wildlife that have been hibernating over winter are starting to become active again! This makes spring a busy time of year for the Garden Wildlife Health team who investigate the diseases that affect wildlife in gardens across the country.  There are lots of ways you can give a helping hand to the wild animals that are waking up in your gardens and parks.


Secretive snakes

There are six reptile species that are native to Britain including three snakes (adders, grass snakes and smooth snakes) and three lizards (sand lizards, common lizards and slow-worms).  Spring is when all reptiles emerge from hibernation and may be spotted basking in the sunshine. Reptiles can be encouraged to your garden by creating rockeries and log piles where they can bask and seek shelter.

Since reptiles are quite secretive, we still don’t know much about the health conditions that affect them.  If you see any that appear sluggish and are not quick to slither off when spotted, this could be a sign that they are unwell.

Sleepy hedgehogs

Hedgehogs can hibernate from as early as October and may lose a lot of weight during this time.  When waking from hibernation, they will be looking for food before the mating season in May.  If you want to provide food to supplement their natural diet, meat-based dog or cat food, unsalted chopped peanuts, and dried mealworms are all good options. 

Although hedgehogs are nocturnal, they can be seen out during the day and this can be normal if they appear busy and active.  However, if they seem sleepy, unsteady or aren’t moving, it may be a sign that they are sick or injured and need help.  Lungworm is a parasitic disease that affects hedgehogs and may cause them to have difficulty breathing and a reduced appetite.  If you feed hedgehogs in your garden, you can help prevent them from getting this disease by rotating feeding sites and cleaning the areas regularly.

Warty frogs

Amphibians such as frogs, toads and newts wake up in spring and head straight to water to breed.  So this is the best time of year to spot amphibians– either gathering at ponds or making their journey to water!

 

We see certain diseases affecting wildlife during springtime.  One condition that affects common frogs is ranid herpesvirus skin disease which  causes frogs to develop grey or white-coloured warty skin growths, often described as looking like candle wax drips. Little is known about this disease but affected frogs do not appear to suffer ill-effects from it.  Please let us know if you spot any warty frogs during spring and summer!

 

Find out more!
 

You can find out more about common health conditions of wildlife in our Garden Wildlife Health factsheets. The Garden Wildlife Health team are unable to treat sick or injured wild animals so if you find a sick or injured wild animal that is not capable of fending for itself you should contact your local veterinary surgeon or animal rescue organisation such as the RSPCA.  Please remember to inform an adult before handling any sick or dead wild animals.

It is important that these cases are also reported to our project so we can build a picture of the issues affecting garden wildlife health throughout the country.  So if you see any sick or dead wildlife including garden birds, amphibians, reptiles and hedgehogs, please tell us via the Garden Wildlife Health website (www.gardenwildlifehealth.org ) - photos can also be uploaded which often helps us reach a better understanding of what might be occurring.

 

Lydia Franklinos
Wildlife Veterinarian


 

 
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Image credits: Adder (c) Jamie Hall / Hedgehog (c) Richard Bowler / Frog (c) Sarah Reed