Partner spotlight: from humble beginnings, a wildlife rescue team is born
It was a chilly December back in the mid-1980s when I came across my first wildlife casualties. They were two oil-covered Guillemots being bashed about by waves at the foot of a cliff in East Sussex.
After a rather hair-raising trip along the rocks trying not to get washed out to sea or knocked off the rocks we managed to catch the birds and bring them up to safety.
A lovely lady at a small bird hospital kindly took them in, medicating then washing them before they were eventually sent on for further rehabilitation prior to release back to the wild.
I was only 13 years old then and used to jump on the bus or train and walk along the coast during the winter months checking for oiled seabirds.
From these humble beginnings about 28 years ago I still find it amazing that East Sussex WRAS is now a charitable company with a small Casualty Care Centre which can hold up to 125 casualties at a time as well as four veterinary ambulances.
Although my role sees me in meetings and behind a desk more often than I would like, our 60 or so volunteers are out there undertaking rescues round the clock to help sick, injured and orphaned wildlife.
I still try to get out as much as I can and recently I was privileged to attend to one of my favourite wild animals - the badger.
We received a call saying two badgers had fallen into a disused swimming pool. The owners had placed a ladder and planks into the pool to aid the badgers escape but only one of them had managed to get out overnight. I attended on site along with two students rescuers, Jamie and Lindsey, who are both studying animal related courses.
The remaining badger was curled up in the mud, rubble and vegetation in the empty pool, very wet, dirty and cold. We climbed into the pool and approached with a cage, net and dog grasper but the scared badger just stayed put and tucked his head between his front legs to hide.
I was able to get the dog grasper round the badger’s neck before then scruffing him to lift him safely into the waiting badger cage. He was taken back to our Casualty Centre where he was checked over more thoroughly, despite being hypothermic, he was found to have a small infection to one ear where it had been ripped at some point, probably whilst play fighting with other badgers.
The badger was bedded down with some warm blankets and a mixture of food after being placed on antibiotic treatment. He made a great recovery and a week later we were able to take him back and release him in the garden late at night, as he would have to cross a small road to get back to his sett.
The winter has also seen a number of birds of prey coming into care. The cold weather seems to push them to spend more time around grass verges as they are generally warmer and rodents are more abundant there when it’s cold.
This brings them into direct conflict with traffic, especially during rush hours at dusk and dawn. We have hardly spent a day without at least one owl in care. Some spend just a few days to a week with us but one has been with us for over a month now as it recovered and regains its sight slowly.
He is now in one of our indoor aviaries to practise flying and to ensure his vision is good enough to perch and feed. We hope our vet will give us the ok to release him soon.
I love hedgehogs! They are fantastic creatures and much misunderstood. Their population seems to increase every winter, and in addition, more hedgehogs are being born too late in the season and end up being abandoned by their mum who heads off for hibernation.
My long suffering partner Kathy has written the following about this winter’s batch of “hedgepigs” as we called them!
“This winter really has been a record one for hedgehogs. We have 25 more hedgehogs in care than this time last year, these will be remaining with us until spring now. Each hedgehog costs around £130-150 to ‘overwinter’ not taking into account those who need more specialist treatment.”
At the moment we are going through over 50 cans of cat food a day to feed our 80 hedgehogs who weigh anything from 160g to 1kg.
Our success rate has been higher this year as well because of our increased microscope work which allows us to identify parasites better.
Across the UK though hedgehogs are suffering a new foe – the Thorny Headed Worm, a nasty parasite that is undetectable until the hedgehog suddenly drops dead. As a result all rescue centres across the country have been liaising with each other and are treating every hedgehog in care for the parasite.
The worm burrows into the intestine and then causes septicaemia before the hedgehog shows any outward symptoms of illness. This parasite is particularly prevalent in wet conditions and seems to come in 5-7 year cycles, this year being one of the worst.
We have had some amazing hedgehogs come in this season, a tiny 100g hedgehog named Stella was hand reared after coming in very small for this time of year, just a tiny baby. She is now fighting fit and weighs 350g.
We have just also had in two tiny 150g hogs from different locations, Button Moon and Orville. Orville came in with sibling Gordon the Gopher, but Gordon was nearly 100g heavier, so we paired Orville with Button instead.
All 3 are doing really well, Orville is a very friendly laid back little boy. Button Moon is a very shy female who doesn’t show her face at all to us, but they seem to get on well.
During the autumn and winter all our hedgehogs remain in the heated part of the hospital either in pairs or singly until they reach around 500-550g, then they go into large groups in cooler areas downstairs, so we can monitor their weights.
Once they are around 650g they go into our upstairs pens where it is very cold, again we can monitor how they cope in groups and make sure they are still gaining weight. Once at around 800g they are then moved into our outside ‘hogstys’ where they are in groups of up to 10 hedgehogs, for the winter, which means they can hibernate if they want to.
They are weighed weekly to ensure they are healthy and coping well, this doesn’t disturb them and many are heard snoring away on the scales.