Countryside animal welfare gap

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I have always been a great admirer of the sterling work carried out by the SSPCA, but two stories in the press in recent weeks have made me doubt their effectiveness in dealing with wildlife problems.

The first concerned an angler at Loch Insh in the heart of Speyside who inadvertently got an osprey entangled in his fishing line while he slept in a nearby tent. Having spent most of the night distressed and cold, the bird needed swift, expert help but the angler was told by the SSPCA on the phone that it would be more than two hours before they could reach him.

Thankfully he managed to remedy the situation by untangling the bird, then wrapping it in a jacket in his tent next to the stove until it recovered enough to fly away.

The second story was nearer to home and concerned a mute swan cygnet abandoned by its parents when the mill lade at Philiphaugh near Selkirk was shut off. The young bird was obviously stressed and open to predation, but when the SSPCA were contacted in Edinburgh, they were unable to help.

Again the story had a happy ending as the rescue centre at Arthurshiel was contacted and within half an hour the bird was caught and taken to the centre, prior to being transferred to the swan sanctuary at Berwick. It has since been christened Lucky, for obvious reasons.

Both cases highlight the primary failing of the SSPCA: its inability to respond to incidents in the countryside within an hour, which is crucial. It is now mostly city-based – that is where most pet problems arise – but when it comes to wildlife, it is woefully too distant.

It had an officer based at Innerleithen for many years and he was able to get to most places in the central Borders within that first “golden” hour, but with modern cutbacks that local touch has now gone.

I wonder if it would be feasible to have a group of local volunteers in each rural region, who could be trained in basic capture and animal first aid techniques and could respond much more quicklyto such situations and at least stabilise the creature until professional help reached the scene. With more and more people using the countryside for recreation, animal welfare incidents are bound to become more common and more harm than good can be done by well-meaning amateurs who don’t know what they are doing.

I think the time has come for a nationwide look at the plight of injured and distressed wildlife and how best to deal with it effectively.