Andrew Bluett

Avian Influenza (H5N8) “Bird Flu”

As we exit the year 2016 and enter 2017, cold weather in the east has provoked a rise in the number of migrants from Europe; waterfowl in particular have started to arrive in greater numbers in search of less frost affected wetland areas.

We have been aware for a number of years of the potential for Avian Influenza in various strains to be carried by long distance migrants and of the potential consequences both for the wild bird populations and domestic (farmed) birds which are concentrated in large numbers in various facilities across the UK where the demand for meat and eggs is high, and especially so in the autumn as Christmas approaches with the spike in demand for Chicken, Turkeys, Geese and Ducks as festive fare.

Outbreaks of the H5N8 strain of Avian Influenza (AI) have been widely reported across the old world with news of slaughter programmes being put in place in for example Iran & Japan where hundreds of thousands of birds are affected. H5N8 is not a threat to human beings but the potential loss of much of the supply to the human consumed meat trade would have other consequences.

By mid-November, eight countries in Europe had reported detections of H5N8 in such species as Tufted Duck, Coot, Pochard, gulls, geese and swans. None of the outbreaks were in the UK but the risk level was increased to medium from low.

Inevitably, the threat was realized in a short timescale; by the first week of December 2016, infections of H5N8 HPAI in wild, captive or domestic birds had been reported in 14 countries across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

By mid-December as a result of an outbreak in Turkeys at a Lincolnshire poultry farm, the BTO issued an advisory note that an exclusion zone had been declared and that all trapping & ringing operations of wild birds in the zone were suspended. On 22nd December WWT Llanelli Wetland Centre was obliged to close as a precautionary measure, following the finding of a dead wild Wigeon on the Loughor estuary. WWT, together with other organizations is vigilant and takes a cautious approach to such outbreaks since there is much at stake, particularly in their collections of captive wildfowl.

From the BTO web-site comes the following information:

General government guidance on avian influenza can be found at:

The latest information from Defra and the Animal and Plant Health Agency on the current outbreaks in poultry, captive and wild birds in Europe can be found at:

What to do

Birdwatchers /naturalists can be of great assistance in staying alert for unusual cases of mortality or sickness in wild birds. If you notice unusual mortality in Great Britain, i.e. five or more wild birds dead in the same location, you should report them by calling the Defra helpline on 03459 33 55 77 (Mon-Fri 8am to 6pm) and selecting option 1, or by emailing Northern Ireland such wild bird mortality incidents should be reported to the DAERA Helpline: 0300 200 7840.

Reports are also encouraged when a single dead wild duck, wild goose, swan or gull is found. Not all birds may be picked up for testing, but collating this information may reveal patterns of mortality.

It should be stressed that HPAI is a disease of birds. It is of great concern for the poultry industry but does not appear to be a major issue for human health in the UK. Whilst deaths have occurred in other countries, the numbers of cases have been very low and have been confined to people in very close contact to infected poultry. The advice is that there is no danger from eating well-cooked poultry and there is certainly no danger from normal birdwatching activities. Sensible basic hygiene should be used if you do come into closer contact with birds.

Feeding birds:

It is extremely unlikely that bird flu could be transmitted to people by feeding birds in the garden. Birds carry a variety of diseases, such as salmonella. The single most important action we can take, to protect both the birds that feed in our gardens and ourselves, is to follow hygiene guidelines.

In all circumstances, after handling bird feeders, cleaning bird baths or feeding birds, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. Bird feeders should be washed and cleaned regularly to prevent spread of diseases such as salmonella. This should be done outside in your garden with dilute disinfectant (normal household bleach diluted 1:20).

What do I do if I find a dead bird?

Many thousands of birds die every week of natural causes and so it is not unusual to occasionally find dead birds. If, however, you find five or more dead wild or garden birds together in the same place and you are suspicious of the cause of death, do not touch the birds and contact Defra using the details above. This is particularly important for species like waterfowl.

Where possible, avoid directly touching any dead birds. If you move a dead bird (e.g. if a cat brings one into your house or you need to check if it is ringed), invert a plastic bag over your hand and pick the bird up in the plastic. If the bird is ringed, report the ring details to the BTO (, then draw the bag over your hand and tie it up and dispose of it in your usual household waste, then wash your hands with soap and water.

Ringers have been issued with more detailed guidance at

Ringing should be suspended within any 10km Surveillance Zones where these are put in place around infected premises.

Polecats in Gloucestershire

Polecats have not in living memory been very common in Gloucestershire but are now believed to be increasing as the population rises in the west and Wales so that more animals are spreading eastwards into the county. In the GNS News of March 2014, John Field, the county Mammals Recorder appealed for members to “Keep an eye out for Polecats”.

In January 2014 Andrew Bluett found a road casualty near The Swan Inn at Coombe Hill; around the same period, another road casualty was found by Andrew Bluett and Juliet Bailey near Westbury on Severn, both were reported to John Field.

In the past couple of months, a GNS member has accidentally trapped Polecats in his garden near Woolaston, to the south-west of Lydney:

“On Thursday 20th October 2016 I caught a well-marked Polecat in a squirrel trap in our rural garden; it had entered the trap during the afternoon and was released unharmed.  It looked well-marked, with dark paws and was in excellent condition.  I weighed the trap with and without it with a small 7lb spring balance, the net weight of the Polecat being 1lb 12oz.  The Polecat had a very strong smell.

On Sunday 6th November 2016 we caught a second Polecat in the garden – in the same trap but a different Polecat, as evidenced by the very different colouring/markings. This one had a paler head but still had a good mask and brown paws, again it was 1 lb 12 oz.  Not nearly such a strong smell as the first one.  I released it in the garden where it made a high speed dash for a hedgerow!

Our previous polecat records were daytime views on 8th August 2001 and 11th July 2002; we had not seen any since then until these recent animals appeared and none have triggered our infra-red ‘trail’ camera. Perhaps there are many more around than would seem from sightings?”

Polecats are wary of humans and are rarely seen alive, most sightings being road casualties. I had seen many such animals on extensive travels in mid and south Wales on business, often on the hard shoulder of the M4 between Chepstow and Swansea, occasionally I saw live animals in more rural areas in daylight. Clearly there are more to be seen and no doubt most are not reported, but if you see one, let us know, or send your records direct to John Field at Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust or to GCER (Gloucestershire Centre for Environmental Records). If you come into direct contact with a Polecat that is alive, be very careful of handling it, they do bite, hard and deep…!


Road casualty, Coombe Hill, January 2014


Road casualty, Coombe Hill, January 2014


Woolaston Polecat No 1 – dark mask – the smelly one!


Woolaston Polecat No 2 – more distinct mask


Woolaston Polecat No 2 makes a dash for freedom after release

Garden Bird Survey – Winter 2017

Gloucestershire Ornithological Co-ordinating Committee organises an annual Winter Garden Bird Survey in Gloucestershire and would like more volunteers to take part during the coming winter – January and February of 2017.

As the umbrella body for recording in the county and as members of GOCC, GNS is supporting this project and on behalf of the organisers and is appealing for volunteers who might wish to take part – this is an easy and informal survey that is of real use and can be done from the warmth and comfort of your own home – no need to get wet, cold and muddy…!

Details as follows:

Gloucestershire Ornithological Co-ordinating Committee – Winter Garden Bird Survey Anyone?

The Gloucestershire Ornithological Coordinating Committee runs a winter garden bird survey each year for nine weeks in January and February. We would love to have additional surveyors who can recognise all the common garden birds and some of the less common ones.  Only those living within the Gloucestershire county boundary can take part. The survey involves counting the number of birds you see which have actually landed within your garden boundary and keeping a tally of the maximum number of each species seen (simultaneously) in the garden each week.  It doesn’t matter if you are away for a week or two in January and February.

A report is sent to all surveyors after the results have been analysed.  All the records are sent to the County Bird Recorder, who says that they constitute an important part of the county’s bird records.

If you would like to take part, please contact Vic Polley – 01453 842896

mvicpolley at (at =@)

GNS Indoor Meeting on Friday 11th November 2016

The next GNS Indoor Meeting is due to take place on Friday 11th November 2016 at Watermoor Church Hall, Cirencester, GL7 1JR; 7.00 for 7.30 pm – the subject of the meeting being “A Lane in the Midlands Forest” presented by Mike Lane FRPS. Mike is a full-time wildlife photographer specialising in birds and mammals and with a particular interest in the new and little known Heart of England Forest in Warwickshire; excellent photos and an interesting commentary.

Details of all forthcoming meetings are available on the GNS Web-Site together with a map & directions for Watermoor Church Hall –

GNS Field Meeting Sunday 6th November 2016

The next GNS Field Meeting is due to take place on Sunday 6th November 2016 at Frampton On Severn – a meeting of Autumn Birds and general interest along the canal and river to be led by Andrew Bluett (01452 610085). Meet in the car park by the swing bridge at the north end of the village SO 746 084, 10 for 10.30 to approx. 1.00pm. Please dress appropriately for the weather and conditions under foot. Come along and take a look at the wildlife and countryside in Autumn along the Gloucester-Sharpness Canal and River Severn.

Glos. Raptors Indoor Meeting – Thursday 8th December

Gloucestershire Raptor Monitoring Group are holding an indoor meeting on Thursday 8th December 2016 at The Gala Club, Fairmile Gardens (off Tewkesbury Road) Gloucester, GL2 9EB, 7.00 for 7.30pm.

Buzzards, with Robin Prytherch: Robin has been studying Common Buzzards in an area south of Bristol for many years, making extensive and very detailed observations of breeding behaviour and monitoring individual birds. He has had several papers published in the journal British Birds, most recently on the way territorial size and productivity have changed as numbers have increased, and (in March this year) on “nests, nest trees and prey remains”.

Tickets are available via the GRMG web-site at

Field Meeting – Sunday 25th September

The next GNS Field Meeting is due to take place on Sunday 25th September at Cleeve Hill to be led by Ellie Phillips.

BIOLOGICAL RECORDING – What it is and how to record your observations.

Biological recording is the main purpose of the GNS and this is an important chance to learn or update your skills. You can stay for as much or as little of the meeting as you wish, there will be a mixture of background context and practical sessions.

There is a handout booklet to help with this event; it would therefore be helpful to have some idea of numbers beforehand. Please contact Des Marshall 01242 245143 or to register your interest.

Meet in the Quarry Car Park (next to the Golf Club), Cleeve Hill, at SO 989 271 at 10.00am (bring a packed lunch).

GNS Nightjar Walks June / July 2016

Nightjar IMG_3375a      Nightjar IMG_3358b

30th June 2016

For the first of the series of Nightjar meetings the weather didn’t look promising, heavily overcast with low cloud, almost constant drizzle, strong wind from south-west and pretty chilly, so there wasn’t a great deal of optimism. However, 4 brave souls gathered with Andrew Bluett and set off into the gathering gloom in search of crepuscular quarry.

In view of the weather, and with only 5 people to accommodate, we cheated and drove to the viewing area rather than walking, which made things rather easier and also provided for a quick escape route if the weather became significantly worse.

As things turned out we had a real treat, 3 males churring and flying around from 9.45pm, with excellent views of birds coming close to investigate who we were and hunting low over the heath in pursuit of the moths. Several times the birds perched on one of a number of favoured perches and stayed there churring for extended periods. There was also much “chirping” as they flew and some wing clapping at times. We were favoured with 3 sightings of Woodcock, a few Bats and a frog or two, 3 large male Wild Boar and several Fallow Deer. A young Tawny Owl called from the trees on the way back to the main road.

On the way home, Colin & Ingrid Twissell who had travelled with Andrew Bluett were treated to excellent views of two family parties of Wild Boar – a female with 12 boarlets and a second female with 8, in both cases the adult lactating females being accompanied by a couple of “nursemaids” helping to care for the young.

8th July 2016

This meeting originally planned for the 7th had to be changed to the 8th. The weather was not quite as poor as for the previous meeting but was again overcast, chilly and windy. Given the success of the previous meeting, there was rather more hope of decent views of Nightjar which proved to be well founded.

6 members and guests duly met with Andrew Bluett and the party walked through the forest to the viewing area, within a very few minutes after reaching the viewing point at 9.40pm, the first Nightjar started churring, closely followed by others and much aerial activity with birds flying around, coming close and at times chasing one another around over the heath. The same favoured perches were used making it quite easy to keep track of the birds for almost two hours.

The Woodcock was heard several times but not seen and on this occasion no Boar or Deer appeared. On the walk back to the cars, the juvenile Tawny Owl was heard calling again and proved to be visible in the outer branches of a Birch tree by the side of the track before slipping away into cover.

14th July 2016

Eight members and guests turned up for the best of the three evenings weather-wise. It was relatively warm, still and fairly clear with some moonlight. Very shortly after arriving on the viewing point the first Nightjar was sighted and the activity gradually built up as darkness closed in. Again at least three males were performing, floating across the heather and bracken, perching in their favoured spots and churring, some wing clapping was seen and much chirping was uttered as the birds flew about. Several times one bird chased another and at one point, a bird took off from a high perch and rose into the sky in a display flight, quickly joined by a second bird, they then drifted off high overhead towards the woodland.

Very good views were had of birds coming close to the party – Nightjars are innately curious and will investigate intruders and foreign objects on their patch – as was the case with the video camera set up in front of one particular favoured perch with a bird lifting off the dead tree stump and almost landing on the camera and tripod before returning to the perch.

On the way back after a very good evening, a solitary Wild Boar scuttled off through the trees and two deer appeared, they also bounded off into the darkness. David Priddis discovered a few bats with his detector which added something to the evening and finally, the reliable young Tawny Owl was again head calling from the depths of the trees.

My thanks to all who turned out on the series of evening walks, their faith was rewarded and the whole venture was a great success.

A short video clip of a Nightjar can be seen here –


Cinderford Northern Quarter Update

20130428 CNQ Meet 1

Dean Natural Alliance who with Forest of Dean Friends of the Earth and others have been continuing the legal fight against the development of the Cinderford Northern Quarter today (Tuesday 12th July) sent out a press release after their latest appearance at the High Court.

GNS agrees wholeheartedly with the sentiments that the CNQ development is ill advised, misplaced and seriously detrimental to the mosaic of habitats and plethora of wildlife on and around the site. The regeneration of Cinderford would have been far better carried out much closer to the town, community and infrastructure that already exists for many reasons over and above the damage that will be caused to a wildlife rich area.

It seems perverse that across the Forest, many groups and individuals are working hard to enhance the wildlife, culture, heritage, history and other facets of the area in pursuit of the Heritage Lottery Fund bid under the banner of The Forester’s Forest whilst on the CNQ site, the local authority and Homes and Communities Agency are bent on continuing with a development that will so adversely affect all of these things.

The text of the DNA press release is given below:

“Dean Natural Alliance greatly regrets the decision last week in the High Court not to allow an Appeal to go forward challenging the Planning Consent for the Hybrid Planning Application at Cinderford Northern Quarter.

We continue to believe that the selection of this site by the Forest of Dean District Council and the Homes and Communities Agency was ill-informed and deeply flawed. DNA feel the CNQ is unsuitable both because of its great environmental richness and because the mining legacy and contamination mean this development can never be economically viable; it will continue to be a great drain on the Public Purse and to damage wildlife.

As the Gloucestershire College still does not seem to be in a position to proceed with their proposed move from Five Acres, we believe there is no justification for yet commencing a section of a Spine Road which will lead nowhere, will increase traffic through Steam Mills and will require Public Forest Estate land.

Dean Natural Alliance feel that because the Cinderford Northern Quarter is such poor value for money with the speculative spending of some £18 Million and is so damaging to our heritage that we will continue to oppose it.”

Further information is available at

Nightjar evening walks 2016

Following the success of previous year’s Nightjar evening walks in the Forest of Dean, I plan to do more this year, proposed dates are:

Thursday 30th June

Thursday 7th July

Thursday 14th July

If anyone is interested, please contact me by e-mail and let me know your preferred date.

As previously, the evening meetings will begin with a 9.30pm start and will be weather dependent. The chance of seeing Nightjars on cold, wet or windy evenings is poor, we will therefore be hoping for reasonably clear and still evenings and if necessary, will revise the dates.

I will send out full instructions ahead of the proposed dates to all who wish to attend.

Andrew Bluett, Membership Secretary –