Sunday, 4 November 2012


Recent news reports have focused on a devastating tree disease, called Ash dieback, being found for the first time in the UK. Having already devastated woodlands in Europe, with scientists estimating upto 90% of ash trees affected in Denmark alone, this is a serious issue.

Ash dieback (Chalara fraxinea) is a fungal disease first described in 2006, causes lesions on the branches of the tree and leads to the dieback of the branches and the death of the crown in particular. It is deadly to young ash trees and older trees will succumb eventually, though may survive several years with the disease. 

Having first arrived in saplings imported form the continent the disease was first spotted in February 2012, with bans on imports taking a further 7 months to be actioned. Further more the Forestry Commissions trade unions warned the government only last year that the 25% cut in its budget would reduce the commissions effectiveness to tackle tree disease. 

Fera have done a video of what to look out for and the life cycle of this disease.

Ministers have held a COBRA meeting which is the governments crisis management committee and they have been told to expect most of the UK's 90 million Ash trees to be infected within 10 years, with the disease travelling an average of 20 miles a year.

Obviously this will dramatically change the look of our countryside with many experts expecting it to be reminiscent of Dutch Elm disease of the 60's and 70's. Not only will this disease kill the tree it will also affect the organisms which live on or around the tree and rely on it for their survival. Tracking the spread of the pathogen has been aided by the development of an app available for iOS and Android devices here!.

The environment secretary has asked people to wash their clothes, dogs & shoes etc to prevent the spread of the disease as the destroying of trees is likely to be unaffective as the pathogen is found in leaf litter.

We will have to see where this disease goes but with fears now of another pathogen which affects Scots pine, can we expect the government to start looking at and tackling the reasons why diseases are becoming more prevalent and widespread? I doubt it!

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Rutting, reprieve and repercussions?


I've been really busy over the last few weeks with various projects but have managed to get out and about for the Fallow deer rut on a couple of occasions. 

The fallow deer rut begins in September and continues into early November, peaking around the middle of October. Typically a stag will gather a harem of does around a rutting stand where he freely mates with them.  He does this by utter a deep guttural belching sound which carries several hundreds of metres.

Rutting stands are distinguishable by the abundance of scrapes and pits which can reach a considerable size. Pits are large areas of bare earth located around the stand and is the place most of the rutting activity takes place. Scrapes on the other hand are located throughout the bucks territory. You should also look out for bark scraping and destroyed vegetation as the males shed their velvet in late autumn and to intimidate rivals and spread scent during the rut. All these signs are often located near established deer paths within the forest to ensure the buck meets as many hind's as possible.

I took a couple of people out with me on the weekend of 20/21 of October 2012 to a location I have been to several times over the last few years and knew it as a guaranteed location for an abundance of rutting activity. The area is heavily wooded with open spaces between lines of conifers, surrounded by deciduous woodland, perfect deer habitat.  However, despite searching for 3 hours we heard not one single buck groaning. We went deep into the forest and all we saw were 5 does, no stags at all. As already mentioned this is a location I know well and know where the rutting grounds are but this time they were empty, in what should have been prime rutting time. Several times I have been to this area and seen up to 10 stags groaning each with between 5-15 females in their harem. 

I was a little worried by this so when I got back I asked a few photographer friends their experiences of the rut this year. All reported the same. Little to no activity of rutting stags, but with sightings of females. This seems to be happening across the Forest and we seem to think that its due to the Forestry Commission over culling the herds. No of course we cannot be sure but it does have us worried. I will continue to monitor the situation and keep you updated. 

Here's a very poor picture of a stag in the location described above, it shows the type of area I have tried to describe.


On a slightly better note the government have decided to postpone the badger cull until next year due to the optimum time for this year having passed. Whilst this is great news the war IS NOT over, we still need to do everything we can to stop this stupid policy. 

If you haven't done so yet please sign the petition, every signature really does help.


Finally, the wild boar have been making their presence known closer and closer to Coleford town centre. A few months ago they had gotten as close as the Forest Hills gold club, about a mile out of town. But recently they have actually come within a few hundred metres of the town centre. Having dug up a pensioners grass verge outside his house it made headlines in all the local press. 
However, despite the moaning of local residents and how hard done by this pensioner was the grass verge has been repaired and barely looks as though any damage was ever done. This unsurprisingly didn't make the local papers. Friends of the Boar argue why the FC will shoot boar in the forests whilst ignoring so called nuisance boar who encroach too far into towns. The FC say that they must put public safety first, despite having dealt with boar close to populated areas before. 
Below is a photo of the damage and a photo after to show how it looks.

Friends of the Boar took to Coleford town centre this past Tuesday to protest against the boar cull. Story here

This is a very worthy cause and again we really need your help and whilst we don't expect the petition to reach the heights of the badger cull every signature will show the FC how many people oppose the cull.

Saturday, 29 September 2012



Well its been a week or so since my last post and a lot has happened in that time.

The petition to the government for people who are opposed to the cull has reached the 100,000 signature milestone meaning it will be discussed in parliament. In fact the petition is now on 136,247 so great going but we still need more signatures to stop this barbaric act going ahead. 

Please take a few minutes to sign, it could mean everything for the Badgers survival.

The Forest of Dean district council has also banned culling on its own land. A vote was taken at a full council meeting on Thursday 27/09/12. They voted unanimously, 30-1 to prevent the cull taking place on council land. 
A statement from the Council reads.

“That this Council recognises that TB in cattle is a terrible disease which needs eradicating. It believes that the government should work in a sustainable way to this end. The Council does not, however, believe that a badger cull will support this objective and will therefore, not allow badgers to be culled on land which the Forest of Dean District Council owns, manages or controls.
The Forest of Dean District Council must make public safety and the care of our wildlife a priority and to this end this council must endeavour to make contact with all other land owners within its boundary to request that they refuse any culling of badgers on their land”

This is fantastic news and a great coup for the cause.

Furthermore it has come to light that the cull will take place when sows are pregnant. This means that they are likely to be shot and left to crawl away into their setts to die a slow painful death. The closed season for free shooting of badgers is to be from the 1st February - 31st May. This means that some sows may already have dependant litters. If they are shot their cubs will also die from starvation. 

Please continue to write to your local MP, discussing your concerns for the cull.

Wild Boar

Another cull which is due to take place is the cull of Wild Boar in the Forest of Dean.

Between September 2012 and January 2013 the Forestry Commission plan to cull 100 boar. According to their estimates there are between 600-650 present in the forest, however friends of the boar believe the number to be closer to 200. Obviously a cull based on such inaccurate figures is a bad idea. For all the FC know they could be halving the population.

The FC have based their population estimates on 4 peoples observations over the summer, 3 rangers and 1 independent. The FoTB, on the other hand have used over 100 local enthusiasts, including wildlife photographers and naturalists. Now, I'm not saying one is right over the other because of course two groups with opposing views are more than likely to put numbers in favour of their own cause. However, it is my opinion that the Forestry Commission cannot perform an effective cull without knowing true figures. More time needs to be spent on censusing this species in the Forest of Dean. 

Friends of the Boar have created a petition of their own and whilst they don't expect it to reach the numbers of the badger petition, we ask you to sign it. 


Culling is an essential part of wildlife management. Deer have been culled in the countryside for years. It is important for not only the health of the countryside but also for the deer. When too many deer are present pressures are put onto the land with damage to grasslands, trees and crops. They also pose a potential threat to motorists as people are more likely to come into contact with them. 
The land only has so much carrying capacity and since we humans have wiped out most of the deer's natural predators we must interfere and take over their roll in the chain.

Whilst I understand that culling is an essential part of countryside management I do not believe that badgers fall into this category. Scientific evidence has shown that culling works to manage a species so that it doesn't exceed the carrying capacity of the land, this isn't the issue in this case. Scientific evidence has shown that this cull to be ineffective in halting the spread of bTB, with the suggestion of better bio-security and vaccination the way forwards.

Similarly with the boar, the FC plan to carry out a cull of a species it has no idea of the true population figures. This cannot be allowed to go ahead and whilst I agree culling of some boar is necessary, we must first perform a proper census. It is no good culling based on inaccurate figures. 

Monday, 17 September 2012

Badger Cull

The Badger Trust have failed in their appeal to overturn the proposed cull on badger.

Well it seems the government have failed to see sense and have decided to go ahead with the cull of Badgers to help control the spread of TB. Despite the protestations of many, petitions and famous names (Brian May) weighing in on the debate the government are ignoring scientific evidence. 

First badger cull licence issued! 

The link above shows the first licence for culling has been issued and it is for Gloucestershire where TB cases are high. 

The map below shows the cull zone for Gloucestershire in yellow with potential cull zones highlighted in red.

Fig 1: 

Another licence is being considered for Somerset.

On Friday the 14th September 2012, a public meeting was held at the Bells hotel Coleford, to discuss the cull. Brian May (of Queen fame) was scheduled to appear and talk on behalf of his organisation Save Me. However, due to a family tragedy he was unable to attend. 

Other guest speakers in attendance were Mark Jones, Executive Director of Humane Society International, Joe Duckworth, Chief Execu
tive of the League Against Cruel Sports, Steve Jones - a herdsman from the Forest of Dean who has looked after dairy cows all his life (including running one of the largest dairy herds in the World) Jeanne Berry from Stroud 100 who spoke on behalf of GABS, Anne Brummer, Chief Executive of Save Me who spoke on behalf of Brian May and Gavin Grant, Chief Executive of the RSPCA.

Many people attended ( I'm afraid I had to work) and showed their support for the cause.


  • As many as 100,000 badgers are expected to be culled in England of an entire population estimated to be at 300,000.
  • The government intend to allow upto 70% of badgers to be culled in an area. This has been shown to only stop the spread of bTB only slightly. Anything below 70% may infact INCREASE cases.
  • It is expected to reduce cases by as little as 16% over a 9 year period.
  • Lord Krebs one of the governments most respected scientists has said that this route is ludicrous and he would go down the route of vaccination and biosecurity. 
  • A decade long trial proved that culling was ineffective!
  • Culling has been shown to lead to a phenomenon known as the perturbation effect. Badgers live in social groups of 4-7 in a territory. Culling disrupts the organisation of these groups meaning badgers range further, thus spreading the disease further.
Fig 2: Perturbation effect diagram. (Taken from the Wildlife Trusts website.

The Cull will see trained marksmen shooting free roaming badgers in a proposed area, which if this seems highly dangerous to you it is. What's to stop a bullet meant for a badger missing and hitting a late night rambler? 

The alternative to a cull is vaccination of both cattle and badgers, which the government have already spent large sums of money developing. So why are they not following this route? Your guess is as good as mine but we must do what we can to stop the culling of this wonderful species. If you want to help please sign Brian May's petition.

I had the luck to visit a badger sett when I was in primary school with the Forest of Dean Badger Patrol and I can say it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. It would be a shame for future generations to miss out on this.

information taken from:

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Boar targeted by gun gang

Gloucestershire police are searching for a group of men in a 4x4 who were apparently taking pot shots at wild boar at Forest hills golf club last week. Since this incident an 18 month old male boar has been found nearby in woodland having apparently bled to death from a gunshot wound.

Boar story in local paper 

This is an horrific act that caused this poor animal who knows what kind of suffering. Sadly incidents like this are set to become more common as more people ignore warnings and continue to feed the boar. This makes them more tame and more likely to approach humans. This danger is two fold in that either people or dogs are more likely to be injured as the boar approach them thinking they have food and also it opens them up to being easy targets.

Back in May the press were alerted to the poaching of a boar in the Dean. What made this case so press worthy was that the poachers had targeted a sow with dependant piglets in blatant disregard for the piglets lives. Luckily the piglets were fine and have been seen by many since. However, things could of been much worse with them eventually succumbing to starvation. Link to the story on facebook Boar sow killing!

A few locals have set up a group to help protect the boar and with the intention of educating the public to understand them.

People need to learn that the Boar are not pets they are dangerous wild animals who will leave you alone if you leave them. Feeding them is only asking for trouble so please remember if you visit the Forest:



My name is Steve Hooton and I was born and raised in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire. I have a passion for wildlife and animals in general. I have a large collection of exotic pets and strive to provide the best possible care for them. I am a keen photographer and love nothing better than getting outside with my camera. I am a member of the RSPB, Gloucestershire wildlife trust and GlosARG.

In this blog I intend to comment on current wildlife stories of the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire and to a lesser extent the UK as a whole. I will also provide you insights on the day to day care of a large exotic pet collection. From time to time some of my own photos will make an appearance as well as comments on any relevant TV shows, books and blogs I feel you guys should take a look at.