The WAWC conference on 8 November 2016 provided an important opportunity for the Committee to set out its aims, explore the current state of knowledge about wild animal welfare, and seek views from the many knowledgeable stakeholders who attended.

WAWC Chair, Dr Pete Goddard, described the day as “a keystone event in the life of the WAWC” adding “it’s risky to say this but I think we are trying to do something rather unique.”

Delegates heard a range of topics addressed by distinguished guest speakers and WAWC members throughout the day.

The opening presentation by Professor Ranald Munro welcomed the Committee’s creation as a much-needed means of “separating fact from fudge” around wild animal welfare.  Professor Munro cited his experience as Chair of the Independent Expert Panel into the pilot badger culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset as an example of the extent to which scientific evidence on welfare could be disregarded by policy makers.  The WAWC could play a role in ensuring that decisions were made on the basis of evidence and facts.

Professor David Fraser’s keynote address “Wildlife Welfare: towards a practical ethic for animals” drove home the scale of wildlife welfare problems. He identified examples of the direct, intended effects of human activities on animals, such as keeping animals on farms, in laboratories or as companions, and of deliberate harm caused by activities such as hunting, fishing or slaughter.  There were also direct but unintended harms, such as the enormous numbers of birds dying around human structures including windows and communication towers, and indirect harms such as habitat change, pollution and invasive species. Professor Fraser analysed the extent to which different activities were already controlled, and the potential for mitigating harm, and proposed simple principles for the “practical ethic” approach:

WAWC member Dr Angus Nurse took the audience on a journey through the principles of wild animal welfare law, describing UK legislation as anthropocentric in approach and often paradoxical.  Conflicting rights contentions arose in areas such as the attempted amendment of the Hunting Act 2004, and there were contrasts between controversial issues such as the badger cull and the UK’s commendable commitment to address international wildlife crime
Dr Carl Soulsbury described the challenges of wild animal welfare in research, made more complex by the non-standard conditions in which such research is conducted.  He called for greater understanding (and recognition) of the impacts of all research techniques on wild animals.

The afternoon session opened with the first report from WAWC’S major scoping review of UK wild animal welfare undertaken by Dr Joana Cruz with supervision from Professor Piran White.  Professor White presented their assessment of the state of research and knowledge about welfare stresses for terrestrial wild mammals in the UK, identifying significant gaps in evidence in a number of key areas.  Notably, most free-living mammals in the UK have not been the subject of welfare studies, and only a few studies have measured the effects of permitted human activities on behaviour, physiology or welfare, whether before, during or after the event.

The research showed that there were gaps with regard to:

  • Monitoring the consequences of stress events on pain, distress and animal suffering;
  • The impact on welfare of certain control activities during the reproductive season;
  • Assessment of traps in relation to humaneness in field conditions and clarification of humaneness criteria;
  • The welfare of species managed as “pests” and subjected to a variety of trapping and poisoning methods;
  • Cumulative and interactive effects of different stressors and their impact on welfare.

The final session of the conference, chaired by Carol McKenna, opened with four short presentations covering:

  • Animal welfare in a conservation context (Chris Draper);
  • Welfare concerns for marine mammals (Sarah Dolman);
  • Welfare gaps in UK wildlife trapping (Dr Sandra Baker);
  • Misguided human interventions (Dr Liz Mullineaux).

The presentations prompted lively discussion among the 70-strong audience, particularly on trapping issues.  Overall, strong messages emerged that the WAWC initiative was necessary, and that the Committee must be inclusive and open to the views of all sectors.

See all the conference presentations in the Events section.