Working together through WILDCOMS



Sue Bowers, Senior Specialist Chemist with SEPA, tells us about a new technique in our environmental monitoring, along with the benefits of working together with other partners through the WILDCOMS network and the added value that has already achieved.

Sue has worked for SEPA for 16 years, and her work includes ensuring the trace analysis section of our chemistry department can deliver on new legislative requirements, whilst maintaining efficiency and meeting all quality requirements for an ISO 17025 accredited laboratory.

Meeting some of the current legislative requirements for monitoring the environment can be quite challenging. Some of the contaminants which persist in the environment can be difficult to detect at the required levels and many do not stay in the water column for long lengths of time.

For some contaminants which behave in this way, we have changed our approach to monitoring. Instead of analysing water samples, we have a’ lipophilics’ scheme where we now monitor freshwater fish and sediment for contaminants which do not persist in the water. This approach means that we can assess the long-term trends in the state of the water environment.

Who contributes to the bigger picture? – everyone!

Across the UK there are a number of schemes run by different bodies that monitor one or more vertebrate species which are used as indicator species, usually for multiple contaminants and/or diseases.

A partnership project, WILDCOMS (Wildlife Disease and Contamination Monitoring and Surveillance Network) has recently been started to link these different schemes together to give a fuller picture of what’s going in the environment.

The various partner schemes within WILDCOMS look for different chemicals in different parts of the environment. The aim of the partnership is for an understanding how chemicals, pollutants, and sometimes deliberate poisonings, affect wildlife populations and the environment in general. Such monitoring makes it possible to:

  • examine the effects and trends of chemicals on the environment;
  • provide evidence to policy makers as to what compounds are dangerous or becoming dangerous;
  • assess how mitigation policies are working.

The activities of partner schemes in monitoring the state of Scotland’s environment has recently been highlighted by WILDCOMS in its Spotlight newsletter.

Most of the WILDCOMS member schemes and organisations rely on citizen science in some form or other for information. Therefore, everyone can be involved in helping gain a bigger, better picture of chemical risks to the environment. What would you do if you found a dead bird, whale, otter or other animal? Step over or around it? Please report it! These kinds of sightings are useful because, by analysing the corpse for chemicals and contaminants, it is possible to get an idea of the state of the environment. You can find out which scheme would want you to report your finding from the links on the WILDCOMS website. By helping with sightings and samples, you will help measure the effectiveness of policies and mitigations that are designed to protect our environment.

How should the ‘bigger picture’ be used?

WILDCOMS aims to increase communication and exchange of ideas, information, samples and resources between the member schemes in order to gain more value from an individual scheme’s data. The partnership network doesn’t only concentrate on the most cost effective approach, but it also considers how the data is to be used to enable stakeholders to gain a better overall picture of the state of, and risks to, wildlife in the UK.swan

By linking the UK schemes together, the outcome provides an invaluable opportunity for the efficient and effective generation of evidence for Scottish and UK policy and business. This process offers efficiency since the schemes can share protocols and data both within the partnership and it can also be a ‘one stop shop’ for organisations outside the direct partnership. The process would be effective because trends can be examined across different indicator species.

For further information, you can contact the co-ordinator of the WILDCOMS partnership through their website.


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