Writes for Wildlife

celebration and protection of the natural world

Category: Environment

Litter in Larbert & the Threat to Wildlife – Let’s Work Together

There is a brand new business in Larbert and Stenhousemuir – a Tim Hortons coffee shop. There are several upsides to this. It replaces the dilapidated and abandoned McCowan’s factory which was an eyesore in the middle of town. Tim Hortons provides new jobs and business for the local area, as well as somewhere for people to meet socially. And, of course, there is coffee. If you are a coffee lover you will grasp the enormity of that last benefit. I am a coffee fan and would hate to deprive anyone of their dose of happiness in a cup either, but there is something that concerns me.

The New Coffee Shop, busy with customers.

Larbert and Stenhousemuir have a litter problem. A big problem. I pick up litter every time I go out of my house, and my kids often follow suit. Sometimes one item, sometimes several, but there is always something rolling around on the pavement to put in the bin or recycle.

Did you know that a Falkirk Council employee comes every afternoon, to collect the litter dropped after Larbert High School lunch break? I didn’t until I spoke to him recently. This is every (school) day. Every day there is so much litter dropped in our town that it has become necessary for there to be a designated person for picking it up. Invariably, the wind whips some of it away, and it is impossible for him to collect it all. Falkirk Council have provided numerous bins between the school and the town centre, at least 4 within a 0.5km stretch, and more in the centre itself. Still, there is litter.

There is litter all along the main streets & blowing around the car parks. There is commonly litter in the Scottish Wildlife Trust site, the Carron Dams. The Dams borders the High School property, and I regularly see numerous plastic bottles floating in the bodies of water. The Carron Dams is unique wetland habitat and a Wildlife Reserve, so this is of particular concern. I wonder how many fewer plastic bottles would be floating in the ponds at Carron Dams if there was a deposit return scheme in the school or town centre. There is always rubbish along the Lade path, and despite massive efforts to clear up and signs posted to keep it clean, here is a picture I took last week……

Litter in the Lade, between Larbert and Stenhousemuir.
In just a few short weeks, many common frogs will be arriving to spawn here.

My concern with Tim Hortons opening, and especially because it has a drive through, is that the numbers of single-use cups, lids, stirrers and boxes, would increase dramatically and that inevitably, some would end up as litter.

It didn’t take long. During opening week in December I saw the first festive Tim Hortons cup blowing around, discarded in the gutter.

The benefits of replacing a dilapidated old factory site with a shiny, new thriving business are detracted from if we have to wade through drifts of litter to enjoy it. Litter is of course, not purely a cosmetic concern, (although I don’t know who actually enjoys living in, and looking at litter), and not the main reason I am writing here. The primary concern for me is one of sustainability, wildlife safety and plastic pollution.

Wildlife are harmed by litter, and so it follows the more litter around, the more damage inflicted on our native species. Eventually this can lead to a reduction in wildlife numbers or diversity. Wildlife is essential for our health and well-being, whether we are aware of it or not. The Falkirk area is also lucky enough to have several waterways, rivers and canals. Not only wonderful natural environments which we can enjoy but essential wildlife habitats too. Waterways flow to the sea carrying any rubbish they contain which arrived on the wind. There is increasing information available about the devastating problems that marine plastics cause for wildlife,  and something we should all make ourselves aware of.

Animals can become entangled or trapped in litter, causing painful injuries and sometimes death. Litter mistaken for food may be consumed, which can fill the digestive tracts of animals who then slowly die of starvation, unable to digest or pass the foreign objects. There is some information here, on the RSPCA site about the damage litter can cause and ways to dispose of waste to keep wildlife safe.

We have a surprising number of wildlife species in our local area, despite being mostly urban and somewhat industrial. To benefit from all that nature brings us, we need to be aware and take care of it. Together we can make a huge difference for the benefit of each other as well as our wildlife. Simple tasks, when carried out by many, can have a huge impact.

What can we do?

Next time you go out for a coffee, dispose of your cup responsibly. If possible, take your own cup or flask for the baristas to fill. Maybe pick up a bottle or can or crisp packet if you see one while you are out enjoying our local nature spots. Pehaps even carry a bag just for this purpose. Educate others about litter, the harm it can cause wildlife and how to use the council recycling schemes. We must also question the necessity for plastic single-use items every time they are offered to us, and make every effort to seek alternatives.

Let’s support our local businesses and enjoy our wonderful natural spaces. Let’s look after each other and the environment, one coffee cup at a time.

Zoonoses, Emerging Infectious Diseases and Wildlife

Zoonoses are infectious diseases that can be transmitted between humans and animal species. The infectious agent may be a bacteria, virus, fungus, protozoa or helminth. Zoonoses may be transmitted directly, indirectly or be vector-borne (e.g. via an insect bite). Humans have lived in close contact with animal species for thousands of years, and so while zoonoses are not a new phenomenon, they are receiving more focus recently because of the role they are playing in emerging infectious diseases.

Most emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) are zoonotic pathogens. In fact since the 1940s more than three hundred human diseases have emerged from animals, and of the pathogens which affect humans, the majority (61%) are zoonotic. Many of the zoonoses have reservoirs of infection within wildlife populations. A reservoir of infection is often a group or species of animals which can carry and possibly transmit organisms infectious to humans, without displaying symptoms of disease. (Taylor et al. 2001) EIDs are receiving attention because of the negative impact on human and animal health, with potential associated economic consequences. They may affect farm animal health and welfare as well as wildlife conservation efforts.

The role of wildlife in zoonoses is multifaceted. Anthropogenic factors are driving major changes of wildlife habitats. The increasing global human population and the associated requirement for food, shelter and fresh water creates more opportunities for wildlife interaction and therefore infection.

Climate change and global warming provide conditions where pathogens may be able to exploit a new geographic niche or host species. Most microorganisms have optimum temperature ranges, and environmental changes can lead to alterations in transmission, environmental persistence, or virulence. The consequences of these changes are not always predictable. (Bengis et al. 2004) In countries where water is a limited commodity, water sources can become a location for direct and indirect infection of humans by the wildlife species with which they share this essential resource.

Direct destruction of habitats by humans, means that the wildlife residents are required to relocate, learn new foraging behaviour, or rely on novel food species, all of which creates potential conflict and interactions with humans.

One devastating example of the interconnectedness of wildlife, humans, livestock and disease, and the importance of forests for human health, occurred in Malaysia in the late 90s. Slashing and burning of vast swathes of tropical rainforest provide land for pig farming. The fruit bats who had been displaced from the forest, were forced to forage for fruit on the trees near the pig farms. Pigs ate the pieces of fruit contaminated with bat saliva and urine which fell into their enclosures. The pigs ingested the Nipah virus, which is carried asymptomatically and shed by the bats, and developed severe respiratory and neurological symptoms. For many pigs the first symptom was sudden death. The Pig farming industry collapsed at a massive financial loss to the farmers and the Malaysian economy. In addition to this there were hundreds of humans infected by the virus and more than one hundred people lost their lives. (Aguirre et al. 2012, Kahn, 2011) However, there needs to be caution in the response to identifying the source of infection or the reservoir species. Bats for example, provide many essential ecosystem roles including pollination, insect consumption and seed dispersal; they should not be thought of as primarily a source of infection.

As the human population increases, some communities employ varied means of finding food. In some countries of the world this means that bush meat is being hunted, traded and eaten on a regular basis. Currently over 500 million wild animals each year. Not only is this a threat to several iconic and critically endangered species, but the opportunities for human infection arising from the contact with and consumption of infected animals is increasing. Ebola virus causes a haemorrhagic disease of both humans and great apes; and with no specific treatment, mortality rates in both groups can be high.  (Bermejo, et al. 2006) HIV is also thought to have entered the human population via bushmeat consumption. (Bengis et al. 2004)

Wildlife trade is also big business, with live animals or animal products shipping round the globe. Millions of birds and fish are transported live each year, as well as tens of thousands of primates and reptiles. The trade is estimated to be worth $6 billion. The increase in intensive farming means that an outbreak of disease in a single species can be devastating.

As well as being a source, wildlife can be adversely affected by zoonotic diseases. The impact on human health of Ebola, Rabies, and HIV, which are all zoonotic pathogens, cannot be underestimated as they cause significant morbidity and mortality. However, Humans are also able to infect vulnerable wildlife species. Gorilla tourism in Africa has become a popular way to raise funds to support conservation of this critically endangered species. However Gorilla are susceptible to pathogens any human visitors may be carrying, particularly respiratory viruses. Gorilla have also sustained marked losses due to the recent Ebola outbreaks. (Bermejo, et al. 2006)

Examples of zoonotic diseases – Many pathogens can affect human, livestock and wildlife health. (Image adapted from: GAO analysis of USGS data, 2011)


Travel to almost everywhere on the globe is possible; the world is increasingly connected. This means that pathogens, diseased people and animals may also move around with relative ease, meaning that infectious diseases can be difficult to contain or to then trace to a source when an epidemic is under way. A concerted, multidisciplinary, global effort is required to reduce the impact of zoonotic diseases worldwide. There must be collaboration between human health professionals, ecologists, animal health professionals, as well as other involved parties to try to predict, monitor and document diseases. The role that biodiversity plays, in maintaining health cannot be overlooked, and I plan to cover these topics further in future posts.




Aguirre, A., Daszak, P. & Ostfeld, R. (2012). New directions in conservation medicine applied cases of ecological health. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press

Bengis RG, Leighton FA, Fischer JR, Artois M, Mörner T, Tate CM. (2004) The role of wildlife in emerging and re-emerging zoonoses. Rev Sci Tech. Aug;23(2):497-511.

Bermejo M., Rodríguez-Teijeiro, J., Illera G., Barroso, A. Vilà, C. Walsh, P. (2006) Ebola Outbreak Killed 5000 Gorillas. Science: Vol. 314, Issue 5805, pp. 1564 DOI: 10.1126/science.1133105

GAO analysis of USGS data (2011)  https://www.gao.gov/assets/590/586047.pdf

Kahn, LH, (2011) https://thebulletin.org/2011/02/deforestation-and-emerging-diseases/

Taylor LH, Latham SM, Woolhouse ME, Risk factors for human disease emergence. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2001 Jul 29;356(1411):983-9. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2001.0888


Earth Hour 2018


Earth Hour is happening this weekend; a wonderful opportunity to start conversations and spark ideas to positively impact the planet and it can also be lots of fun!

This Saturday, 24th March 2018, at 8.30pm you can join this global movement for 60 minutes and commit to turning off all your lights for the hour. Each country’s earth hour begins at 8.30pm local time so that the sequential switch off sweeps the globe as the planet spins into a new day.

Celebrating Earth hour with children, (if it is not past their bedtime….. or maybe even if it is) can impact their thoughts about the planet we call home, and how the choices we make have consequences. Sitting with family members in the flickering light of the fire or candles for one hour can be a novelty, and a good time to discuss the reasons behind our choices and maybe brainstorm ideas to further help people, animals and planet.

However, the way you celebrate is entirely up to you: an hour of peaceful contemplation or a family story-telling session or maybe even get the neighbours involved and have a street party. Earth Hour is coordinated by the WWF and one of the strong themes for the next couple of years is focussing on preserving the planet’s biodiversity.

If you would like to find out more or sign up to join in you can go to the Earth Hour website. You can also watch the official video showing the many famous locations round the world switch off their lights and showing their support. If you decide to join in, do share your plans on social media; I would love to see how you celebrate.