September 10, 2010

In the Spotlight: Wildlife Health Newsmaker Interview with Dr Matt Hartley

Wildlife Health Newsmaker Interview with
Dr. Matt Hartley

Who are you?
Matt Hartley BVetMed MApplSc CertZooMed DipECZM CBiol MSB MRCVS
Head of Wildlife, Aquatic and Zoological Animal Health
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, London, UK -
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What are you working on now?
I am responsible for the detection, assessment and management of new, emerging and exotic diseases in wildlife and aquatic species.  So, I manage a range which contribute to this:

  • I am responsible for aquatic animal health and we are currently dealing with an outbreak of new variant Oyster Herpes Virus which is a new and emerging disease causing significant mortality in Europe. We have a control zone in place and are conducting surveillance throughout the country. This work also involves liaising with the European Commission and OIE to communicate that we are meeting our international obligations relating to disease control.
  • I manage wildlife disease surveillance which is delivered by our newly formed GB Wildlife Disease Surveillance Partnership which includes both government agencies and NGO’s working together.
  • We recently published a control strategy for notifiable diseases in Feral Boar and I am now working on putting the field delivery instructions in place.
  • I am working on our contingency planning for rabies in wildlife. This is very important as the UK is free of rabies in all animals.
  • Part of my role is the production of veterinary risk assessments regarding wildlife and I am now working on a risk assessment concerning the potential role of deer in the epidemiology of notifiable diseases in the UK.
  • I chair a number of advisory committees which provide wildlife disease expertise to policy makers these include the European Bat Lyssavirus Advisory Committee, the Ornithological Expert Panel which advises on wild bird ecology for Avian Influenza policy and the Feral Boar Expert Group. I strongly believe that we need a range of expert advice to assist in wildlife disease control so these forums are key to effective policy.

How does your work benefit or impact the knowledge of wildlife diseases?
My role is to identify the surveillance and evidence needs that Defra has in regard to wildlife health and commission appropriate work to answer key policy making questions. This means I am responding to real situations and to real issues.

We fund a considerable programme of work relating to wildlife disease; these are often focused on developing diagnostic tests, epidemiological investigations and practical disease control methodologies. It is then my role to take the findings and results from the studies and integrate them into our policies and control strategies.

What do you see as the most significant challenge for wildlife health professionals today working in the field of wildlife disease?
In the UK we have not had the same number of wildlife disease issues with such wide ranging and serious impacts as there have been in other countries such as Rabies, Chronic Wasting Disease, West Nile Fever, White Nose Syndrome or Henda Virus and therefore organizations which provide funding often do not recognize wildlife disease as a high priority area for funding.

In addition, I strongly believe that wildlife disease workers need to explain why their work is important, how it has the potential to make a difference and how the outcomes can be used. In my experience wildlife disease researchers are not good at this. I receive many applications for research on wildlife disease which do not state why we should be interested in funding the work and what the results would mean. The fact that animal population X has a seroprevalence of 55% for disease Y in 3 month period in a 30km area in Southern England is completely useless to me – what I want to know is why is this important, what does it tell us? What are the risks and to whom? What drivers might make this better or worse? And what can we do about it?

Wildlife disease field research needs to answer questions that funders and decision makers really need to know and not be based on the fact you get to collect blood samples from cool animals on a fun field trip and the results are rather interesting academically. There are so many really important questions relating to disease in wildlife populations and we need to focus on these so that the area of veterinary medicine is really taken seriously and recognized as the critical issue it is.

What informational resource (e.g. book, journal, website, etc) should any wildlife health professional be familiar with?