#Lockdown litter leaders- Wolverhampton- “out of darkness cometh light”



As part of our lockdown litter campaign, we wrote to the four leaders of the Black country local authorities. The letter can be read here.

I am very pleased to report a very positive response from Councillor Ian Brookfield of Wolverhampton, who is the first to respond. There are some very encouraging statements from him here, and the direction that the City Council have taken is to be welcomed. 

He responded;

“Dear Mr Ian Carroll

 Thank you for your email dated 30 July 2020.

 I have now had opportunity to discuss the content of your email with my team and wish confirm to you our support for your lockdown litter campaign, furthermore we are happy to display the campaign leaflet in our notice boards at the sites where fishing is permitted.

 As a Council we are determined to tackle all aspects of environmental crime, anti-social and to uphold the protection provided to  animals, plants and habitats under our control in accordance with the Wildlife and Countryside Act and working collaboratively with our stakeholders and communities. Only last month, working with key internal and external stakeholders such as the Anti-social behaviour team, Neighbourhood Policing Team, local fishermen, RSPB and the Environment Agency, tackling several issues of anti-social behaviour, animal cruelty and illegal fishing at Rocket Pool. Our own Ranger and Countryside Service has increased the patrols around our waterbodies, including Rocket Pool and Ladymoor Pool, during COVID-19 lockdown.

 We will continue to build on this and work with our neighbouring Authorities in the Black Country and other stakeholders to share best practice and further improve our management and enforcement powers of our waterbodies.

 Kind regards


Councillor Ian Brookfield

Leader of the City of Wolverhampton Council

Labour Councillor for Fallings Park”


This is a great response, and probably the best that one could hope for. It is also good to see a politician true to their word, as our leaflet is now displayed in the notice board at The Rocket pool site, and it is clear that some effort has been made in recent times to improve some of the drab surroundings.



We hope that the other three leaders will also respond in a similar vein, but Councillor Brookfield has certainly led the way here. There are three other bins waiting to be locked down, but as for Wolverhampton…



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Sandwell’s troubled waters


troubled waters

It’s unfortunate that this borough has a political situation at present which rivals its many toxic swamps. In the chaos of the single infighting group and their childish squabbles, who are split into two bitter warring camps, this means that little is being achieved, and very little scrutiny apparently visible either. The situation with the pools in Smethwick , appears to mirror its elected officials.

In March, I was quite positive that the abysmal raw sewage/botulism situation at Smethwick Hall Park was going to be tackled, largely as a direct result of lobbying by park users and local residents in a petition of 400 names being submitted to the council. A site meeting was held where we were as good as told that the situation was in hand and it seemed a sure fire thing that the report that had been written recommending action would be waived through.

Then at the cabinet meeting where this was supposedly going to happen, out came a bizarre question from the now ousted ex leader of the council Yvonne Davis, of “Should we defer this item, in the light of the “crisis” we are facing?” Watch from about the 18 minute mark.

It was quite clear that both the cabinet member, and the senior officer were left quite perplexed as to what she actually meant, whatever spin they put on it, the silent pause was a clear non scripted moment.

This referred , at least I assume to the current covid-19 issue, and I read the statement as “I wonder if we should spend this money on a pool” (with a very series human health related issue, i.e human raw sewage in the lake causing illness by a direct pathway to receptors- birds and potentially people), or use it to wipe bone idle people’s arses instead in free hand outs- as this council does best?

I queried this bizarre moment, as it was far from clear as to what outcome had been arrived at in the meeting, and what was meant exactly by  “deferring” the matter, and received this response from Alan Caddick- SMBC Director Housing and communities

” Hello Mr Carroll

Please let me clarify what was approved at yesterday’s Cabinet.

 Cabinet approved the recommendations in the report, the main one being to procure a contractor to carry out the works at Smethwick Hall Park. As explained to you at the site visit we made, the works will see the silt removed from the entire pool and then being reused within the pool area to reduce the total area of open water by 50%. These works will be put out to tender in the normal way. The Leader did ask a question as to whether the works should be deferred for three months due to the current situation we are experiencing with corona virus. My response to the Leader was that it would be prudent to go out to tender and get the tenders back in; at such time we could then review the position with corona virus and agree a suitable way forward as to when the works start.

In addition, the installation of aerators in our pools and the establishment of a Pools Maintenance Team has also been agreed, and as Cllr Crompton says in her email we are going to do these things as soon as we can.

Whether you accept it or not we, and the country as a whole, are in an emergency situation and we are having to conduct our business in different ways, as demonstrated by yesterday’s Cabinet that was completely in line with the Council’s constitution.

We will continue to work with you and update you on progress, but you will have to bear with us as we have significantly reduced staffing resources at this time which may result in some delays.”

I don’t accept that we are in “an emergency situation” and never have, we are in an engineered situation, and for some people that means a much easier life and a situation where that people who want to do things are being held back by those who wail neurosis and anxiety as an excuse for doing little.

So as this so called “crisis” unfolded, and continuing as some council staff appeared covid-awol, as volunteers, myself and Baz from scared animal wildlife rescue have basically been doing the job of the water team that was also supposed to be created in the March report. We have retrieved dead birds, rescued sick birds, made a nesting raft, put in a platform to help birds back onto an island, reported pollution incidents and deployed booms paid  out of our own pocket. Oh and I also delivered some free food parcels to the birds, but didn’t feel the need to make some promotional video about it, FFS!

In summary, 2020 has been an abysmal year to date for incidents of environmental pollution, mainly hydrocarbons.

Last month saw one of the most serious pollution events at Sheepwash Nature Reserve in Tipton, where we had to rescue a whole family of swans that were laced in some form of hydraulic fluid from off the River Tame.



Severn Trent were actually on the ball with this one, and had traced the pollution back to an industrial concern in the Tividale area, but most of it had by this time done enough damage, and by the weekend had reached beyond Wednesbury, affecting wild bird along the river the whole way. A duck had to be caught at Hydes Road, scene of another major spill in February.


All these birds were fine, and have now been released after being diligently cleaned by Scared Animal Wildlife Rescue.

Then came another scare immediately after this with another pollution issue at Hydes Road. It was clear that this was a so called “misconnection” where someone has hooked a washing machine into the wrong network resulting in it gushing crap into the surface water channel which flows into the pool.



We had a testing kit which showed that there was high levels of ammonia and also elevated phosphate, consistent with these type of issues.



Once again we contacted Severn Trent and the council, and I believe that some misconnections were traced back, and that these people will be receiving letters to put right the issue.

Then back to Smethwick Hall Park and a different type of pollution to the usual in the form of diesel/turps type solution which came following a deluge of rain, and once again required over 20 birds to be rescued that had become covered in it.





Severn Trent were already aware of this and were trying to trace where it had come from, but that was all they appeared to be interested in, except putting a boom across the other side of the lake to where the main bulk was sat- which was still a substantial amount that would have covered more birds that had landed on the site. A vacuum truck that had been called for was not used because of “health and safety” , and we waited around for some time before it was concluded that not much was going to happen from the up to ten high vis jacketed phone users. They had not even informed Sandwell Council of the issue, I did.

We totally ignored their advice of “leaving it to them”- which would have been nothing and we quickly deployed the limited pads I had bought from a spill kit, after the February Hydes Road pollution, and they left behind some of theirs, and it was quite clear as to the amount of pollutant that had just settled in the fenced off “botulism” /raw sewage shallow area.


And we also put in a boom across the water. By now Severn Trent had gone, and were no seen again.


Pollution on top of pollution


The following day, an army of volunteers and local residents also acted for the sake of the birds and deployed another makeshift boom across the water in the form of straw and netting.



super snakey

This stretched right across the pool, anchored in a V shape off the island.



After a phone call to the now acting leader/ deputy leader of the council, Maria Crompton and Sunish from the Sandwell Valley, we got the most help of this situation with a massive bail of straw which we used to try to contain the area of pollution within the booms. And much Worzel Gummidgery was had by all.  😛


It basically worked and controlled and contained the worst of it. Unfortunately the botulism fence had already started to push over, and another torrent collapsed it. Once again we took to the water and put it back up, and it is now more secure than it was before.

The following week the new SMBC contractor , who seems like a can do type of guy , and the sort  that we want to work with, arranged for the removal of the soaked straw and the installation of new booms.


All under the watchful eye of “Donatello” the resident terrapin who appears to have seen it all at this pool over the last two years and was using the old one as a resting point.



The pool once again lies in situ awaiting a plan to remove the contamination.

After contacting my MP Nicola Richards about the situation, this response came from the CEO of SMBC David Stephens. There’s not much new here, but on we wait…..


One can only hope from this that something will finally happen with this pool, though I’m not sure about the others, as the countdown to The Commonwealth Games 2022 looms with the spiralling cost of the aquatics centre swimming pool being built less than 400 metres away from this cesspit. I wonder, “Should we defer this item, in the light of the “crisis” we are facing?” 

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Lockdown litter leaders?



As part of the #lockdownlitter campaign to raise awareness concerning the damage caused to wildlife by lost and discarded litter associated with this activity, we wrote to the leaders of the four Black country Local authorities, Dudley- councillor Patrick Harley, Sandwell- currently Councillor Maria Crompton, Walsall’s Councillor Mike Bird, and Councillor Ian Brookfield from Wolverhampton.

I have outlined the letter below, and inserted the pools where in my experience of rescuing birds for over 20 years, these continue to be the worst. I have also written to some local councillors whose wards cover these areas, as well as receiving the support of my MP Nicola Richards, which is most welcome. Some of these areas don’t have litter bins, so this would be a start in attempting to tackle the problem, but more is needed as issues of anti- social behaviour are what cause the problems.

I hope that the councils involved will respond positively with action, and I will publish the responses received.


Ref local authority control of angling and our lockdown litter campaign


We write to you as rescuers of wildlife, and with particular reference to wildfowl that are both resident and visitors to lakes under your council’s control. With experience of over fifty years of this voluntary work between us, we have seen many birds affected by litter associated with angling in this time, and the situation is unfortunately getting no better.

Throughout the lockdown and the current covid event, we have continued to rescue and take injured birds requiring help to rescue centres, and the time and expense of this has been funded out of our own pockets. Whereas the RSPCA have vast resources and finances to do their work, many people call us when they do not attend incidents, and this has certainly been the case in the last four months.

The main problems are angling related, which are entirely preventable and need to be tackled in partnership with your authority where it has management of the waterbodies to prevent suffering and injury to these wild birds.

Several years ago, The Environment Agency produced a “golden rules” for fishing leaflet, and then in 2003, The National Angling Alliance also constructed a code of conduct for angling. This was after a great deal of pressure and evidence compiled by The National Swan convention, (of which swanwatch was a regular contributor of data for records in The West Midlands area), which was presented to The Environment Agency, as regulators of angling. Between 1995-2001, a third of all rescue records for swans were attributable to angling related issues.

The Agency in conjunction with the NSC and the angling trades association then also produced a paper entitled “The impact of lost and discarded fishing line and tackle on mute swans Research and development technical record W1-051/TR,  Perrins, Martin, Broughton”

It produced the following major observation in that it

“…highlighted the magnitude of the danger which angling poses for mute swans. Rescue groups and the RSPCA attend over 8,000 swans in trouble each year and it is estimated that approximately 3,000 are due to angling -related incidents, either directly hooked or entangled with fishing tackle.”


Fast forward to 2020, and the following piece reveals that the situation is only becoming grimmer as a recent Daily mail article shows, reporting RSPCA rescue statistics for the last five years.


“15,183 reports relating to animals injured by or caught in angling litter”.

NB these are just the RSPCA reports and do not cover the work of volunteer organisations who attend far more incidents than the RSPCA combined.

The main problem in our experience of sites, including ones that you are responsible for managing, is that free fishing, and night fishing, which attracts antisocial behaviour and the type of people who do not care what they leave behind correlates directly with increased incidents of birds being tackled. Relevant legislation such as The Environmental Protection Act may well be being employed in your town centres and even parks, but for some reason appears to escape those sitting around the waterside. Licences supposedly a legal requirement are seldom checked by anyone, and so the situation is left to deteriorate. It has to be asked as to why fishing is free, when you are losing money from this activity, yet other sports require payment, and some kind of rules, with threat of ejection or banning if people do not abide by them? Would football teams for example be allowed to continue to leave rubbish behind on the pitch, without the council taking action if they did so? Why should a few anglers be any different?

The antisocial behaviour is further compounded by the use of “bivvy’s”- or tents where individuals squat for sometimes days with alcohol and illegal drugs. They also conceal offensive weapons like axes and knives and cause criminal damage to aquatic vegetation, fences and trees. Illegal theft of fish and poaching is absolutely rife across the region, and fishing on pools not designated for fishing is also increasing, to the destruction of natural habitat and biodiversity. The areas left behind are festooned with plastic litter, and accented by line and hooks snagged up in trees and in the water.  Why is this tolerated? If these were illegal traveller infringements, or someone went around dropping litter in a town centre, presumably action would be taken, so why are people allowed to camp out whilst breaking the law, and a blind eye is turned?

In Sandwell the main sites of concern are Sheepwash Nature Reserve, Hydes Road, West Smethwick Park , Victoria park Tipton and Warrens Hall Park. This includes illegal fishing, illegal use of traps and several hooked birds. Evidence can be supplied.

In Dudley the main sites of concern are The Fens pool Nature Reserve pools, The Donkey Pool (Wrens Nest) and Parkes Hall Pool. This includes illegal fishing, illegal use of traps and several hooked birds. Evidence can be supplied.

In Walsall the main sites of concern are Moorcroft Wood. This includes illegal fishing, illegal use of traps and several hooked birds. Evidence can be supplied.

In Wolverhampton the main sites of concern are Rocket Pool and Ladymoor Road Pool. This includes illegal fishing, and several hooked birds. Evidence can be supplied.

The issue is that a new code of conduct is needed to cover all of the Black Country authority lakes.

An example of a set of rules which appears to work well at Walsall Arboretum is attached.

We have produced a new leaflet attached, which we consider to be the main golden rules and which could prevent birds being injured by angling litter. We hope that your authority will support this initiative and we can provide these to display in your site notice boards where fishing occurs. You will also hopefully engage with other authorities, ourselves, and legitimate angling organisations in the area to produce a new code. But this is not in itself enough, as it will require enforcement to succeed, and this will require resource implications. We realise that at this time, this may be difficult, but do realise that the third sector cannot continue to sustain the time, expense and vet bills associated with what is poor management of a single activity on waterbodies in your duty of care. We need to end free angling and evict those who are irresponsibly endangering our wildlife by leaving litter behind and not adhering to the rules.


Could you please address these concerns in a positive manner by a formal response, which we will publish in the public domain as part of our campaign to #lockdownlitter.


Regards Ian Carroll Swanwatch, Barry Sawbridge, Scared Animal Wildlife Rescue.


 Walsall Arboretum fishing rules

lockdown litter leaflet

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New Lockdown Litter leaflet



This month we have been raising issues relating to angling litter and the problems that it causes every year for wildfowl and rescuers.

The leaflet below is a collaboration between Swanwatch and Scared Animal Wildlife Rescue, and shows some of the casualties that have been encountered across the Black Country boroughs. These were either as a result of negligence , or poor angling practice, and could have been avoided. Many years ago, The Environment Agency published a “Golden Rules” leaflet. There was also a code drawn up by The National Angling Association, following lobbying from organisations like The National Swan convention, (NSC).

From theNSC  statistics below (which included some of the larger rescues and those of the RSPCA),  this showed how angling issues related to around one third of total recorded rescues of wildfowl, not counting lead poisoning which is also largely attributable to the same source. “Ill” , “injured” or dead birds, could have course also been victims of the same activity.

Scan_20200712 (3)

Unfortunately, as anyone who rescues these type of birds know, the situation has only got worse. Most reasonable anglers would be horrified at these statistics, but there are a few who simply do not care, who need to be rooted out, and part of this involves better management and enforcement of fisheries owned by local authorities and an end to free day ticket fishing.

Scan_20200705 (2)

The EA Golden rules leaflet



Our leaflet summarises four main rules, these being



Scan_20200712 (2)



lockdown litter leaflet


swanlogo - Copy90897623_1151495028528526_4052892828844425216_n

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Lockdown litter



I have seen some articles early on in the Covid  shenanigans which spoke of how animals were “reclaiming streets” and how the so called “lockdown” would benefit nature. These people must live in cloud cuckoo land, and I have only seen evidence to the contrary.

Along canal towpaths, and in parks people have multiplied like never before, threatening habitat, allowing dogs to run amok and of course leaving behind piles and piles of litter.

It is this last point which is now becoming intolerable and directly harming wildlife. The biggest source of threat to wildfowl remains discarded fishing line and associated rubbish. Some people continue to ignore local guidance and respect for the environment, and unfortunately local authorities continue to fail to put a stop to anti social behaviour that this “sport” appears to be symbiotic with.






Not only do we get the fishing line dumped idly behind in bushes, but the snacks, and of course the empty booze cans and accompanying packs of 4 and 6 which cause issues for ducks like this in West Bromwich.


These plastic tags are a real menace, yet there are biodegradable alternatives being suggested, which all environmental groups, rescuers and wildlife enthusiasts need to lobby their MP about to ban the drink industry in the UK from continuing to kill and maim our wildlife with their cheap plastic shit.

There is no question that free fishing on pools lies behind the problems of this anti social menace , as it is quite apparent that responsible anglers and match anglers do clear up their rubbish with the threat of being removed if they fail to do so. Local authorities have got into the habit of failing to challenge unacceptable behaviour on their own site assets. No one would allow drinking in libraries or tolerate rubbish being thrown on tennis courts, so why do they fail to stop this around their pools where nature lives?

Every year, I like many other rescuers have to spend a great deal of time trying to help these casualties after I have done my own job, and many have to be taken to a rescue centre or vets to recover, at the expense of the rescue and those transporting them. All this as a result of careless action or ill conceived bad angling practice.

That is why we will be writing to all the leaders of the four black country boroughs asking them to join our campaign to end free fishing on its pools, ban all night fishing,  and start to deal robustly with the issues surrounding this lethal litter. Education campaigns are clearly not alone going to stop this habit , and enforcement must start to be practiced.

It is interesting to note that children can perhaps be our educators, like the notice I saw below on a pool in Dudley. Last week I had to catch the male swan on this pool which had a 2cm hook in his beak and line attached, making feeding almost impossible.

If a nine year old girl knows the difference between right and wrong, perhaps those in authority should start to show some responsibility to helping others like her bring about positive change, instead of siding with the drunken idiot jobless who spoil it for the many. It is a question of sides, and it’s time the leaders showed which one they are on. 

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Brookvale park and botulism- a summary PDF

I have produced a bit of lighter reading for those who do want to follow the long forensic previous post about this situation. Relevant evidential links are supplied within the document for clarity.

Brookvale Park and botulism

Please note the APHA guidance at page 2 concerning situations like this notes

“Treatment regimes, including careful oral administration of warm water to flush toxin from the gastro-intestinal tract in early cases, and nursing can be effective.”



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“There’s nothing meaningful to be done”- Birmingham’s troubled parks- an investigation


Though I have frequently had run ins with Sandwell MBC regards birds in parks,  Birmingham City Council- the largest of local authorities has a very dubious track record on wildfowl and their welfare in its own. I have previously outlined how two ridiculous specimens wanted to cull geese in one Birmingham park with inflated claims. I have also set out how BCC park officers assisted the wildlife murderers at FERA with killing ruddy ducks at Witton Lakes.

I don’t like Birmingham City council and its parks department. Not only as a result of the issues highlighted here, but as a consequence of several years ago, when I along with others was targeted by them for actually daring to care. I noted that several birds on two of their lakes were becoming lead poisoned and needed help. Some park officers connected with ringing birds, and one odious “lord of the rings” individual who lives  in Tamworth, thought they knew better, and attempted to smear myself that the birds were not ill and that I had “cleared a whole lake of swans”. This individual even went to other sites and asked one ranger at Chasewater; “has that little bastard been here again?”  whilst repeating the lie obviously given him by those officers at Birmingham City Council.

The background to lead poisoning in swans, symptoms and occurence can be read in the PDF below written by a former MAFF veterinary pathologist, who attended National swan convention conferences, as I did, around this very same time. The Birmingham Parks were well known as “a lead poisoning blackspot” with frequent records of admissions to wildlife rescue centres- the vain staff in this department may not like that , but it is a fact based on the results of scientific tests.


Even further and more bizarrely at the same time, certain same individuals within BCC libelled me in suggesting that I had been releasing birds from out of the area at Sutton Park, (without any proof), on the basis that a few were turning up with colour leg rings from outside of the area. Notwithstanding the fact that I don’t drive, and live many miles away from this site, these plankton appear to have failed to recognise that birds have wings, and also that the RSPCA release birds from their Stapeley Grange wildlife centre  in Cheshire, which covers  a vast area, to a site around 7-8  miles away from Sutton Park as the crow flies.

Every single bird taken off these lakes were confirmed to have elevated blood lead levels and required treatment, by independent academic testing at Keele university in a scheme paid for by The Environment Agency, with many not making it. BCC were sent these results by Wychbold Swan Rescue, but the stuck up jobsworth pomposity of these desk jockey’s was well remembered, especially when they even cosied up to the police in a desperate attempt to discredit me, but were forced to make an apology- as shown below- though this wasn’t made to myself personally.

Apology not accepted

Though the number of lead poisoned birds has declined at the pool since this time, there have from time to time been some noted to be showing the same symptoms which have required rescue- especially when the water levels have fallen sharply- and thus given greater access to shallow sediments in the lake. This will become a regular observation in this post.


The numerous issues concerning SMBC’S  disastrous managed pools in Smethwick/”botulism” and related Severn Trent water sewage pollution are noted. I have looked at botulism, its causes and effects in this post. 

But issues of a similar nature have occurred and are reoccurring again in Birmingham, with the approach taken by this local authority mirroring the complacency and apathy that they showed with the lead poisoning situation at the very same site. Further more , it appears that certain actions which have been taken at this park, and at the knowledge of BCC have directly led to the occurrence of illness at the site, but the admission of this and failure to remove carcasses at the lake by BCC have not been.

I put them in the public domain in this post, because the illness and deaths of wildfowl at this badly managed lake are inextricably linked to the fluctuating water levels and increased access to contaminated sediment for bottom feeding birds, disturbed by water pumping operations in combination with festering dead birds and tree debris which act as an energy source for botulism.

In chronological order here is what appears to have happened at Brookvale Park in Erdington. Though illness with lead poisoning has been shown repeatedly at this lake, through lead shot discarded by anglers, the botulism situation had never occurred at this lake in the 22 years that I have been visiting there almost every week. That was until around July/August 2018- a very hot period of weather.

It is clear that some public facebook postings from this date showed that West Midlands fire service had attended the site and had “oxygenated the water”. It is not clear if BCC or any of their employees had formerly requested them to do so, yet this posting appears to suggest that one had.


31st July 2018

There was no valid reason for “oxygenating” the water, no fish were in distress at this time, and nor did the lake require it.  In fact this action would have disturbed the silt at a time when the bacteria in the lake would have been at peak. It should also be noted that this lake goes up and down at violently fluctuating periods, and there has been no apparent reason cited for this. More on this and an investigation as to why below.

A further FB post reveals that WMFS were again at the lake on 27th October 2018– “doing exercises”.


I made a freedom of information request to BCC about the levels after complaining about this fact, and here is what they claimed in response.

(i)Please disclose if any Birmingham City Council staff have remit to or have been given permission to lower water levels in Brookvale Park, either on an ad hoc basis or within the last year. Which officer of the council grants such permission?”

No change in water levels has been undertaken by any officer. Any decision to change the water level at Brookvale would be determined collaboratively by drainage officers and the District Park Manager.

(ii)Please disclose if any individual, club or organisation have remit to or have been given permission to lower water levels in Brookvale Park, either on an ad hoc basis or within the last year.”

Birmingham City Council has never given permission for the water levels in Brookvale Park to be lowered. 

(iii) To the City council’s knowledge, has any external authority have remit to lower the water levels at Brookvale park and may have done so within the last year?”

The environment agency might have reason to change water levels to facilitate inspection of downstream structures, but we are not aware of any such action within the last year.

(iv) Please disclose internal emails between Council officers within Parks/Highways/drainage and any other organisations in connection with the recently reported bird deaths at this site, and also the lowered water levels at the lake. I include in this any discussions to raise the water levels at the lake to prevent further deaths.

Please find these in the attached document. 

The only emails supplied consisted of an email dated 13th December 2018 between someone from the APHA and the BCC animal welfare officer – this was after the first reported bird deaths were made public.

And the other dated December 14th from the BCC animal health enforcement officer , which requests that all of the dead birds be removed from the lake on a daily basis- (obviously up until now they were not from this admission), and that “paddy”- the park keeper was getting complaints from members of the public and the RSPCA.

It is even more surprising that the dog wardens would apparently be instructed to incinerate and therefore destroy any evidence for investigation as to cause of death without pursuing this avenue via the APHA.


The FOI request clearly appears to state that BCC and their staff did not lower the water levels at the lake, and were not responsible for this- yet they do own this lake, which is used for boating and sailing. 

There may well have been an unreported or untraced  sewage related issue at the same time, as with the situation at Smethwick,  but the disturbance of the silt by WMFC would have been certain by these actions- directly resulting in botulism conditions being exacerbated.

The APHA guidance about being careful with suspected botulism and circulating potentially contaminated silt is noted.

It is noted, as will be evidenced, that the APHA sent this guidance to both the animal welfare officer at BCC, and also management at Sutton park- IN AUGUST 2018 FOLLOWING THE FIRST NOTED WILDFOWL DEATHS.

I made an FOI request to WMFC about why they were on the lake, and what they were doing, after also being sent pictures by a member of the public.


A relevant question as to whether the fire brigade knew what they were doing, and where the water was going.

(II)May I ask if any of these activities were at the request of Birmingham
City Council or any of their staff, on either a formal or informal basis?

(iii) Please provide any communications including emails and attachments
relating to such requests.

None the above have been on request of Birmingham City Council. However our crews do inform the park ranger of are visit.

(Compare this with the picture above and commentary!).

(iv)Can you state if any water has either been removed from or added to this lake by any of your staff and appliances over this period?

This information is exempt under section 1 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 as we do not hold this information. We have not recorded if we removed or added water from this lake.

v) Are you aware of the perceived instances of suspected “avian botulism” at this site during this time following a number of deaths of birds, and what subsequent risk assessments have you carried out in respect of using this site, or the water/sediments contained within for your staff and appliances? Please provide any written information that you hold in relation to this.

This information is exempt under section 1 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 as we do not hold this information. No records are kept in relation to “avian botulism” at this site and subsequent risk assessments.

I further queried some aspects of this response, as I considered it fairly poor.

On how many occasions have your staff pumped water from or to  this lake during these operations?

WMFS has been 3 times to this site in the last 12 months, we have  performed open water pumping training exercises.”

Could you please specify the dates and duration of activities if recorded.
Supply me with information held as to the nature of the “water pumping training exercises” , i.e any written information given to your staff in such a scenario.

On how many occasions have your staff pumped water from or to this lake
during these operations?

On the dates mentioned below the water is taken from the lake, into our pumps and sprayed back into the lake through hose.

Could you please specify the dates and duration of activities if recorded.

31st May AM

14th April AM

28th March PM

31st July 2018 AM

Precise times and duration are not record therefore this information I exempt under section 1 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 as we do not hold this information.

NB they failed to give me accurate attendance of their activities at this site- on 27th October 2018 and 13th April 2019- just for two ! One must therefore wonder just on how many actual occasions these reckless actions were taking place with repeat disturbance of the silted water?

Supply me with information held as to the nature of the “water pumping training exercises” , i.e any written information given to your staff in such a scenario.

Please find link below to water pumping training exercises.

Fire Service Manual_Volume 1 – Fire Service Technology Equipment and Media – Hydraulics_ Pumps and Water Supplies

from chapter 6 onwards.

The  information from Chapter six appears to demonstrate the effects would be from such open water pumping activities. It is not clear if they used “The Holland Fire system” of pumping water, but given it is in their training manual, it cannot be discounted.

The “open water training” – as reported by one of their own staff- note the date of this, as it will become important as to the consequential result, but does not appear to match up with the claimed date of April 14th (as above) when it was stated they were there.


On 12th April– before their supposed arrival and 15 days after their previous claimed visit of March 28th, I observed a clearly sick swan on the lake and recorded the symptoms for evidential purposes in this video  .  I also rang the RSPCA to collect the swan which was clearly in serious distress.


A further spell of death was noted on the lake after the visit on 13th/14th April- see further pictures below taken on 18/4/2019.

These events clearly followed WMFS activity of pumping and disturbing silt within the lake, and cannot be dismissed as coincidence. But the actions of this council or lack of them in leaving dead birds in the water had been occurring for many months up to this period.

It is quite clear from social media postings by members of the public , that bird deaths had been occurring throughout the autumn of 2018, (in conjunction with the WMFS activities at the site, but had only been publicly reported and acknowledged – quite inexplicably when the local neighbourhood police had warned people about not letting their dogs near the water because of a number of dead birds- particularly swans. They stated that this was “on behalf of the park keeper”, yet no reason is given as to why the management of this park /environmental health had failed to communicate the message through their own BCC communications channel employees? The Birmingham Mail picked up this story dated 16th December 2018. 


The article claims that investigations had been launched into the deaths, but it appears that they already had some inkling given the comment about “elements that may cause harm to animals”- whatever that is supposed to mean. It is difficult to see how any investigation was taking place when someone from within BCC was requesting that the birds be incinerated- as per the obtained email from the FOI above dated two days before this article was written. No evidence of cause of death would be obtained, if none of the birds were even being sent for post mortem to the APHA. I would put it that far too much time had passed, with little to no response from BCC as to the unfolding situation at this park. 

Again, the APHA guidance about leaving dead birds in the water and not removing them is clear.

I made formal complaints to BCC about the dead birds , and the fact that they were not being removed promptly, and the lake and its management, to which I received a very inadequate response. I also sent the manager of parks in BCC, Joe Haden, the APHA guidance on botulism outbreaks- link, as evidenced in the email below from April 7th 2019. Of course, as will be revealed further on, they had already been sent this by the APHA themselves.

avian botulism


At the same time that myself and the RSPCA were noting and rescuing ill birds at the pool, as well as noting the council’s inadequacy to promptly remove them, another Birmingham Mail article appeared quoting a local resident who had also been tirelessly trying to get answers as to why so many birds were dying on the lake, and noted that the situation had been ongoing since the year before.

The headline to this was

“Dead swans and rotting carcasses wash up at Brookvale Park in Erdington”

There are some quite extraordinary statements made by BCC employees, which need to be highlighted here, both for their callous disregard for the welfare of the birds in an assumed avian botulism situation, the lack of following the APHA guidance, and also statements which are just false concerning botulism in birds.

  • The statement about the prolonged dry spell simply is not true. As evidenced by the picture from 31st July 2018, the level of the pool was not affected by any lack of rain or evaporation, but falls in water levels were as a result of water being let out of the pool by some means- drops of 9-10 inches were noted to be taking place within a single day- see indisputable evidence further on in this post.
  • The council try to pass this off as a natural occurrence, yet omit their role in failing to remove dead birds promptly from the water, removing dead tree debris from the lake, and actively allowing the fire service to use the lake- all factors in increasing the risk of avian botulism, as defined by the APHA guidance.

  • Incredibly the council identify the low water levels in conjunction with the deaths and the birds ability to now reach the silt, yet appear clueless as to why this has occurred.
  • “Once birds contract the disease, there is no cure available”.

This statement needs to be scrutinised and fact checked for accuracy. You can play around with semantics about “cure” , but the council here appear to be implying that there is no treatment available and the birds cannot be saved and will all die after contracting illness. This is simply not supported by factual evidence.

The APHA guidance, supplied to BCC states the following,

 “Treatment regimes, including careful oral administration of warm water to flush toxin from the gastro-intestinal tract in early cases, and nursing can be effective.”

The council refer to outbreaks across the country of AB, and it is clear from some outbreaks at different locations, that intervention by catching ill birds in a timely manner ,administering treatment, and removing them from the source of risk has resulted in them being saved and therefore “cured”.

botulism 1












NB. At least one of these birds was from Brookvale- collected by the RSPCA.


Bird recovered with care from the RSPCA, but was not released into the same contaminated and untreated environment it had come from.

I also give the following case study of three recovered treated Canada Geese that we rescued last year from polluted pools in Smethwick, and which were taken to Linjoy Wildlife sanctuary. The notes here were written by the experienced rehabilitator.

smethwick geese treated

These occurrences rubbish the claims made by BCC, and show that care and treatment can “cure” ill birds, but that it is the pools themselves which need to be treated and cured to prevent the risk to start with.

All of these organisations under the guidance of veterinary professionals chose to try to save lives rather than sitting on their flabby buttocks promoting that it was better to leave the birds to suffer in situ to die. 

Furthermore, on this point ,  an extract of the go to manual for veterinary professionals, from chapter 38 “Nervous diseases of the manual of raptors, pigeons and waterfowl” This is a table concerning the treatment for botulism type C- the avian botulism suspected in this case.


“If antitoxin and fluids are used to flush toxin from gut and bloodstream, 75-90% of affected birds may recover” (Olsen , 1994).

Further statements in the BM article


  • Clearly staff were not removing birds promptly,  as was noted in the December BCC email when they were noting just this after complaints from members of the public! And the whole driver of the April  BM story and the pictures show dead birds left in the water for several days. This was also my own personal observation which I know to be true.
  • “It would be counter productive to remove any sick birds as this would create stress on those creatures with no prospect of recovery”

This statement has already been factually disproven, but becomes an outright mistruth here! 

The care of this BCC spokesperson is none existent, who appears to be suggesting that the birds should just be left to die, by drowning and then removed at a later date. How an ill bird suffering from the prolonged effects of this illness and then slowly fading away to drown is NOT suffering stress is beyond me!

  • The water level is referred to as being back to “normal levels”- whatever that means.
  • The statement about brookvale being a great site is hopeful fantasy when they appear to be doing nothing to control the factors causing it.

A further email along very much the same lines as the person quoted from BCC in the article was publicly posted on facebook, and is written by John Porter. A local member was also copied in.


  • He repeats the statement falsely of “no cure or treatment available”.
  • “There is nothing meaningful to be done”. Perhaps this one line summary shows exactly what BCC management are all about. The apathy here is incredulous- clearly there are many things “meaningful” that could be done, its just that lazy people do not want to do them.
  • He claims that “we are in the hands of nature”- again not the truth when manmade intervention of lowering the levels of the lake by 9-10 inches is causing the water to fall, and not hot weather.

All I can say to Porter and his ilk is that  it’s a good job that some people think that there is something meaningful to be done and attempt to help wildlife at this neglected managed site. 

On spending a great deal of time at this lake in March/April of last year, I had cause to ring the RSPCA on several occasions to report ill birds, as well as to BCC itself- (without much interest from them).

Following the media story and my complaints, as well as concerns expressed privately which I know about by the RSPCA, the council started to finally collect dead birds from the lake and island. A boat was brought onto the site by Birmingham rangers on 18/4/19- (note just 4/5 days after WMFC had reportedly been at the lake on pumping exercises- see evidence of this above), though for reasons unexplained, the park keeper based at Brookvale appears unable to use it.










18/4/19 Sutton park rangers…. “clearing a lake of (dead) birds” at Brookvale park.

18/4/19 Ill bird suffering from symptoms of botulism , but more interested in picking up the dead. “Great work all round”

Bizarrely on this visit, when they could be bothered to bring a boat onto the site from the Mecca at Sutton Park , despite me telling them about the ill one pictured which was starting to drown, they sailed on past on the hunt for more dead birds, presumably in case the press turned up again with a long lens.

I also started to investigate the water source out of this park and where it went, scaling fences and following the brook course towards Spaghetti Junction at the M6.

I was sent the following pictures of the slipway by a member of the public, after the RSPCA had attended the site to pick up more dead birds and look for ill ones. He took pictures on this day, and the subsequent day after that. At this point the City council started to use their dog warden to allegedly look out for ill or dead birds. Again I would ask the question, was this not the park keepers job for this site?

deadat brookvale

The RSPCA retrieve 2 dead swans from the BCC lake on 10/5/19


Taken 10/05/19

water level2

Taken 11/5/19 – a clear massive drop in water level in matter of hours.

water level3

And back again to 10/5/19 hours earlier when the RSPCA had been in the water with their boat.

I then went to verify this for myself on 12/5/19 and took the following pictures which confirmed that the levels in the lake HAD dropped by 9-10 inches in just that time.


Taken 12/5/19 which shows just how much water had disappeared from the slipway in the two days.


opposite angle showing now exposed brick and silt. The water level just 2 days earlier had been at the base of the wall.



Measuring the clear scum line where the water had been revealed the drop from where the base of the wall begins.



Green scum line indicates the drop in level in two days


The outlet from the pool, again water level drop line clear.


Opposite end of culvert out of brookvale showing rubbish debris collected – but appears to have been rodded.


The brook continues in the direction of spaghetti junction but was very low suggesting water had been let out.

Near spaghetti junction gate 2 where another culvert flows towards the River Tame- was this also cleared resulting in a dramatic water level drop?



At the other end of the lake where the water flows in from Witton Lakes, clear tree debris and brickwork was also apparent and exposed silt.


The question that I would ask from this clear draconian drop (which has been noted on many occassions), is why no staff at BCC, principally the park warden considers this something not to be reported and investigated in light of the clear damage it is doing to the fauna at this site?

Despite communicating this information to BCC officers, they paid no attention whatsoever to the drops in water level, and this line appears to be continuing even in the face of the clear evidence I have provided. Instead I was lectured about “climate change” and weather conditions being repsonsible- well that is bullshit!

APHA bird death reports

I managed to obtain some APHA post mortem reports from Birmingham City Council on request. It appears that they had sent some birds for post mortem in August 2018. It is noted that these were in a very poor condition according to the APHA, suggesting that they had been in the water for some time.

Joe Haden in an email dated 18/4/19 stated the following.

“Initially over concerns over Avian Influenza (AI), a number of dead birds were removed and sent to the laboratories to test for AI as a matter of course, consistent with Defra’s current guidelines on dealing with the threat of AI. Discussions were then had with a Veterinary Investigation Officer based at APHA’s Shrewsbury Veterinary Investigation Centre, who carried out the post mortems and took samples for testing. He then provided advice, confirmed there was no AI or West Nile virus (also a notifiable disease) detected and sent a link to the Defra guidance. The presumptive diagnosis of Avian Botulism was discussed and confirmed in an email received on 9 August 2018, together with the laboratory report, this was sent to the Senior Animal Welfare Officer and Sutton Park Hub.”

APHA reference 26-B0037-08-18 related to a black headed gull and a herring gull.


” unfortunately both these carcasses were not in fresh condition and the herring gull was particularly decomposed and not suitable for further testing. It has not been possible to reach a diagnosis in this case.”

 A further submission APHA reference 26-B0062-08-18 consisted of two dead Canada geese and a swan. An interesting statement is made about the initial outbreak of the disease- (following remember the WMFC activities on the lake one week earlier).



The report received on 7th August was of sick swans and Canada geese.  Affected birds were weak and lethargic with flaccid wings, noticeable when in the water, and one swan could not stand and one goose was seen with ‘discharge’ at the corner of the eye.  The RSPCA had euthanased some clinically affected birds.  The park contains a large number of swans, geese, mallards and coots; approximately 20 birds have died so far.”


 The finding of presumptive diagnosis of avian botulism was supplied by the APHA , and at this stage they even sent BCC a copy of the avian botulism PDF- supplied to “the senior animal welfare officer at BCC and The Sutton Park Hub.” SO WHY DID THEY COMPLETELY IGNORE THIS ADVICE GOING INTO DECEMBER- AND ALSO FAIL TO INFORM THE PUBLIC , ONLY VIA THE POLICE, UNTIL THIS TIME?!!!

The fact that many birds were also being put to sleep is also concerning in that they were never given any chance of recovery.

“In view of the clinical signs described and the post-mortem findings the presumptive diagnosis is avian botulism as discussed on the telephone.

I enclose a link to further information about botulism.


A key initial feature of control of outbreaks is that all dead birds should be promptly removed as these are a potential source of toxin.  The toxin may be frequently found in maggots feeding on dead birds and these represent an important was (sic) of toxin dispersal to feeding water birds.  Further detail is given in the document in the link. “


With a lack of clarity over what was happening with these birds from either BCC or the RSPCA in 2019, or if botulism had been identified instead of just “suspected” , I submitted an FOI request to the APHA, citing The Birmingham Mail story concerning the dead swans.

“Could you please confirm if you have carried put any post mortems on wildfowl from Brookvale Park Birmingham , West Midlands- approximate nat grid reference SP091911 and supply me with the preliminary, supplementary and final reports concerning recent bird deaths .
Can you CONFIRM that these birds died from avian botulism, and was this a “presumptive diagnosis” without carrying out a test for this summer related illness?

I believe these may have been submitted to the Shrewsbury laboratory since December. “

The APHA responded with several attachments which appear to confirm that BCC had done nothing since the first deaths to investigate by scientific means as to what the cause of deaths were in these birds other than “presumptive diagnosis”. The deaths remember had been occurring for many months before this time, and the APHA had already sent them literature on methpds of prevention. For some reason however, the APHA failed to provide the recent 2018 Brookvale post mortems, which is very remiss given that it is within the scope of the request. 

APHA Ref. No. 26-B0002-01-19   

Relates to the submission of birds collected by the RSPCA from the lake, 3 swans, 1 Canada goose and 1 coot. All were reported to be in good bodily condition, and two of the swans had just been put down at the pool.


The RSPCA had clearly given the APHA a degree of background information into the issues at the site-  “Approximately 20 to 30 birds were reported to have died over two weeks including three coots, one tufted duck, two Canada geese, one domestic type goose and the remainder Mute swans.  Birds have been found dead or been found weak with droopy wings leading to inability to fly and walk.  Some have been taken to RSPCA Wildlife Hospital and Vale Wildlife Hospital for treatment and some have died or been euthanased at the lake.  Botulism was suspected from the clinical signs.” 

Furthermore and to confirm my own observations as described in this post

” The water level on the lake has been decreasing and the reason for this is being investigated.”

It is stated that one of the swans had a lead level of >600, (with  metallic fragments  seen on x ray), which probably refers to micro grams, and is a very high level- which again supports the statements  I have made about historic lead poisoning with swans at this site in conjunction with decreased water levels.

The other comments also support everything I have stated in this post, and it is clear that the RSPCA had shared my concerns with the APHA.

“I understand that there are concerns about the low water level in Brookvale Park and also there may still be carcase remains around the edge of the lake particularly on the island which would be a good source of toxin.  I enclose a link to information about avian botulism, one of the key principles in the early stages is to remove all carcase material and rotting organic material and improve the water quality.  I would be interested to receive further information about how this is progressing and discuss clinical findings in the live birds at the RSPCA Hospital.


BVSc MSc MRCVS Veterinary Investigation Officer


N.B This is exactly the same PDF I had sent to Joe Haden in February, but which Birmingham City council officers had already been sent by the APHA  in August 2018 already. 

Subsequent tests showed no presence of avian influenza in the five birds. 

They also tested for duck viral enteritis, a highly contagious disease in wildfowl, which again proved negative.

The suspected lead poisoned bird was tested for lead- finding a very high lead level which confirmed that this was the cause of death in this case.


 The kidney lead level is equivalent to 59.89µmol/kg wet matter, 50.8µmol/kg dry matter.  This together with the impaction of the oesophagus and suspected high blood level is consistent with lead poisoning.
The birds examined were in relatively good body condition with good reserves of body fat apart from Bird 5 which had findings consistent with lead poisoning.  The clinical history and lack of obvious gross lesions in the others is suggestive of avian botulism.  We have not found evidence of Avian Influenza or Duck Viral Enteritis.”  

A test for botulism was carried out on just one bird – a swan which proved negative, but presumptive cause of death was attributed to botulism- but the contributing factors are quite obvious to this, as expressed by the report. Perhaps

“there was something meaningful to be done”. 

Whilst fannying about with my complaint, BCC waited until they had another post mortem result which finally confirmed a single bird had tested positive for botulism, as though this was some form of case closed for them, to do nothing at all about remedial matters caused by their incompetence and pathetic management of silt over many years, as well as major tree debris in the lake that had been there throughout the same timeframe.

This APHA reference  26 B0243 04 19-08 (1)    related to another swan which appears to have been sent in April of 2019- again following the WMFC activities at the lake. Once again, the investigating officer at The APHA provides the BCC ignored link to avian botulism.

And then abruptly in July 2019 the deaths appeared to stop. I have asked BCC if WMFC had attended the site, or had been asked not to and got the following response from Joe Haden.

“We have no record of West Midlands Fire Service using the site for training and have not given permission or been contacted with any request to use the lake in this way.”

This of course doesn’t answer if they have.

In March 2020, out of the blue, a report from a member of the public at Brookvale came in via a rescue centre of a bird in distress at the site. From the symptoms of the swan it was obvious as to what had returned. But despite the poor prognosis, this bird made a full recovery WITH TREATMENT at the Linjoy Rescue centre in Derby.


NB “The botulism lake”, refers to one of the Smethwick parks.


But it wasn’t the last, and noting once again dramatic sudden drops in water levels, we are currently again in a spiral of bird deaths at this lake- particularly it seems affecting swans, which are of course able to access the deeper sediments.


Once again I have measured a 9-10 inch water level drop over a matter of hours.



It is clearly visible where the water level had recently been, any blind man could see this.

Despite this , this is what I have received from Joe Haden on this matter.

“Local Parks officers and Main Drainage colleagues have both followed up with their respective EA contacts as you’ve requested below. Both lines of enquiry have confirmed that the EA have not carried out any works locally that would affect the water level at Brookvale or Witton. EA visit the lake weekly and are of the view the changes in water levels (up and down) are in keeping with that location.”

So the EA, according to BCC believe that a 9-10 inch drop (up and down) is acceptable, despite the abysmal environmental damage that it is causing- which I believe is down to these very same people removing blockages down the line.

Despite claiming that they would be erecting signage at the lake telling people about avian botulism and other matters around this time last year, but failing to have done so, the following signs have suddenly appeared following the resumption of the dire situation.

The focus of these signs, and the misinformation contained within them appears to be focussed on the public, and not on the failed managment and animal welfare concerns of Birmingham City Council. We have linkages to eutrophication and their favourite anti bread message.

And AB is also caused by leaving branches in the water for months and not removing them, allowing the fire service onto the lake to recklessly disturb the water, and also leaving piles of dead birds to rot in this soup whilst allowing water levels to violently fluctuate- but BCC choose to not tell the public about any of this. I wonder if it’s because that would involve them doing something “meaningful” ?  

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Springtime for Sandwell’s birds?

After handing in a petition to Sandwell council concerning the dire situation at Smethwick Hall Park and the associated related deaths at Victoria park and West Smethwick Park, the response was awaited in the form of an officer report. We met Maria Crompton and officers on site to also discuss this and the possible plans.


There was also a further response from Liv Garfield CEO of Severn Trent Water concerning this petition, who offered to set up a meeting with her senior officers at the site.

These officers also met with Sandwell council, who have also submitted a bid to STW for their community fund. Both meetings were largely positive, and it was revealed that SMBC would desilt the pool at Smethwick Hall, which it should be remembered was contaminated with raw sewage– a major cause of fuelling avian botulism in the type of conditions which exist at this park pool.

This week, the report was released,with some other documents on the SMBC CMIS website, and will be considered by the SMBC cabinet for approval on March 18th.

I have to say that this is a most welcome report , and the plan in place will hopefully do much to put right some of the damage done by previous slow action and incompetence.

The main points being out forward are

The cost benefits of Option 2 far out way those of option 1, and there is also no doubt that only a complete removal of silt will suffice to remove the contaminated material. This is also true for the brook, which we also know to have been contaminated by raw sewage.

option 2

The new aerators are in line with APHA guidance in dealing with avian botulism incidents, but also there needs to be focus on removing organic debris contained in some of the pools.

I have no idea why the parks maintenance team was ever disbanded, and clearly this was a retrograde political step back in 2016 when it was. Pools remain a major focal point in parks, and with the council’s vision and boasts about green flags etc, this can only be welcomed as an actual positive step in making them a better place for avian and human visitors.

The full council press release concerning this,  where they claim to be spending a total of £342,000 can be read HERE.

How the council funds this scheme is of course down to them, but hopefully the Severn Trent fund will be successful, though it was explained that the company themselves do not have direct control of this process.

The reduction of the pool size is to be regretted, but will also help maintain the pool better.

There are details such as timetables and engineering issues which have yet to be set out, and the effect of works on the birds will also be important. There may well be some challenging issues ahead, and monitoring of the effects will be down to us to deal with.

There is also the issue as to whether STW can deliver on ensuring that there are no more sewage issues connected into this site, which unfortunately the report strangely does not choose to mention.

Perhaps with the Commonwealth games on the horizon, this decision taken by SMBC was on the cards, but be in no doubt that the petitions handed in to the authority and to the water company themselves were a key driver in delivering these positive plans.



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A raft of ideas for helping nesting wildfowl

If you are part of a conservation or wildlife group, here’s a few ideas for creating a nesting/roosting raft for your feathered friends.

With nesting season imminent, rafts are particularly good if birds have no access to an island for safe nesting, or if they are limited to nesting on the side of a pool which is prone to flooding. They can protect birds from predation all year round and increase breeding/survival success of young ones.


Still in use , if a little worse for wear some 15 years later

I got these designs several years ago when doing some conservation work for The British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV) , and as swanwatch we have put out several. Some are still being used nearly 20 years later! The costings of the one below are probably out of date now, and much of the polystyrene we found as abandoned litter from building sites, at least turning it into something useful. We used pine wood, but old smaller pallets are probably just as good.


Scan_20200229 (2)

The polystyrene gives buoyancy to the raft, and gives enough clearance for the water to rise when enough slack is left on the rope/chain which is anchored from the ends of the floating platform at opposite ends. We used old ice cream tubs filled with concrete, and also breeze blocks as anchors. With this design it took the weight of one person, and therefore plenty for a bevy of birds. A duck platform or “gander lander” is also preferable for young birds to be able to access the raft.

Scan_20200229 (7)

A couple of more elaborate designs are shown in the BTCV book below.

Scan_20200229 (4)

Scan_20200229 (5)

Scan_20200229 (6)



Home sweet home

Despite going to many efforts however, it seems some birds are not too fussy on where they park themselves for a kip.  😮


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Diesel everywhere!


In what is now becoming a depressing familiarity, yet another spillage of diesel in a local pool has resulted in severe problems for wildfowl living in the water that it has invaded.

Woden Road South Pool in Wednesbury, sometimes oddly referred to as Hydes Road,  is the latest casualty of this vile liquid’s ubiquitous presence in our natural environment causing havoc.


Let me firstly explain why this substance is so damaging to wildfowl and their ability to waterproof themselves after they have come into contact with it. Wildfowl have contour feathers and down feathers, the structure of which is shown in the diagram below.


Drawing from Manual of Raptors, Pigeons and Waterfowl. Benyon, Forbes, Harcourt-Brown.

Body feathers form a continuous waterproof layer over the body. Down feathers provide insulation and buoyancy. The structure of the contour feathers in a criss- cross character allows an air space which creates an impenetrable formation which repels water. Birds preen themselves regularly to keep the feathers in good condition by using oil from their preen glands.

When coming into contact with sticky contaminants like diesel, the feather structure becomes clogged and causes them to clump together. The air-water interface in the feather is lost and the birds become  non waterproof causing them to stay out of the water and become vulnerable to predators. They are also prone to hyperthermia in harsh weather.

Diesel in the water at Woden Road pool

The problem with birds is that they continue to preen themselves during this process which results in rubbing in the diesel over their whole bodies, so they eventually become totally smeared in the substance. Ingesting this toxic material can also have consequences of diarrhoea and dehydration, which also need to be treated.

The process of washing a typically oiled bird can take up to one hour, requires a constant temperature and several washes to remove all of the contaminants from the feathers. This is a very stressful process for the birds and usually fairy liquid is used in solution.


Oiled mallard. picture Caroline Watkins

At Woden Road, just about every wildfowl on the lake was covered in diesel, the cause of which has not as yet been determined. It is clear that an inlet into the vastly swollen pool is the main source from which it is flowing, and this may be due to some idiot or business tipping contaminants irresponsibly down the drain which unfortunately leads directly into this pool. There is an unexplained accumulation in the centre of the pool which appears separate to this. There were also however spillages on the path at this site, which could not have simply been run off from the road.



Though the council put a bale of straw in the inlet, this doesn’t appear to have had much effect, as the pool is probably over 1 foot higher than normal. The spillage has continued all week and has not been stopped and the source tackled. This means that more birds are likely to be affected until someone pulls their finger out to detect it.

There have been other spillages of diesel , mainly on canals in the area in recent times, in Tipton, Oldbury and Walsall. All of these incidents have resulted in birds being covered and having to be rescued by volunteers and the RSPCA. It is becoming a very expensive repetition due to someone’s ignorance and carelessness, and also that of society which consumes so much of this killer.


Oiled goose. Picture Caroline Watkins


Some of these incidents may have been caused by industrial concerns but many involve the use of marine boat craft on canals, and one can only hope that the eventual ban of all boats using this fuel is not far off.  Electric energy and recharging points are the only solution to this major environmental pollution. I pressed The Canal and Rivers Trust for a comment regards how this unclean form of current transport is destroying the waterways, particularly around boat yards where the grime is spewed out in copious amounts, but is never cleaned up by anyone. There has been a great hoo-ha about so called “climate change” and suggestions of reducing transport and reliance on vehicles on the roads in major cities and eventually phasing out diesel cars (amen to that), but why should boats on the waterways escape such a debate? An ecologist at the trust stated the following when I put the question to them.

“With regard to your query regarding electric boats, I have the following information. We offer an “electric boat” discount on boat licences as an incentive to move away from diesel.  We are also having discussions with relevant government departments on what a ‘zero emissions’ world would mean for inland waterways. So in answer to your question, it is on our agenda and we are taking steps in the right direction but as I am sure you will appreciate, this is not something that will change overnight.”

 Perhaps it’s about time running a diesel powered boat became a much more expensive hobby to encourage this change a little more quickly!

Without doubt the most frustrating part of these incidents is the total lack of response from The Environment Agency to date. You are invited to ring their “incident hotline number” on 0800 80 70 60 to report such pollution incidents, 9so far I have put in three calls), yet it is increasingly clear to me that this number is a massive Government fraud, as due to the unfit for purpose Common incident Classification Scheme, which I have looked at HERE, these reports are just shut down if they are classed as being “category three”, without any attendance whatsoever.

Let me be clear, The Environment agency staff are paid to do a job, the volunteers who rescue the affected birds and rescue centres that have to deal with them are not. The current level of service from the EA in response to these incidents is absolute shit. They are so keen to attend incidents which involve fish deaths-(the source of their quangos funding), yet they care nothing for wildlife above the water line, soiled by an industry they fail to also regulate from emitting such pollution.


One can see a time when members of the public have to effectively clean up these spillages themselves, and perhaps also attempt to trace back the pollution to the source it came from. In such circumstances where the polluter is known, but the EA fail to prosecute, they should perhaps be unsurprised when those who are forced to do their jobs for them start  to operate outside of the law and decide to take direct action revenge on the polluters by using some fuel of their own.



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