A day in the life of a hero hedgehog helper

Meeting hedgehog rescuer Joan Lockley

I recently had the opportunity to visit one of IFAW’s previous Animal Action award winners to see for myself her wonderful hands-on work rescuing and caring for sick and injured hedgehogs.

It was two years ago that Joan Lockley, from Cheslyn Hay in Walsall, West Midlands, first came to IFAW’s attention when she was nominated by members of the public for our 2015 Animal Action Awards. She had already become something of a local legend with people who knew her praising her tireless care for the prickly gardener’s friend and her dogged refusal to ever turn down a request for help, be it day or night, and we were delighted to present her with our Hedgehog Rescue Award.

As the IFAW UK team prepares to award this year’s winners at our annual ceremony at the House of Lords next month, it seemed a fitting time to see a previous winner in action and share her story.

Arriving at Joan’s home to see hedgehog-related signs, ornaments and memorabilia, it is clear this is someone who lives and breathes hedgehogs. There is even a special crate outside the front door for hedgehogs to be delivered to Joan’s care if she is not in, and in the brief time we pop out, a new prickly admission is waiting inside the crate.

With her quick wit and sprightly demeanour, despite being in her 70s, it’s no surprise that Joan is referred to as ‘our village hero’. When her IFAW award was featured on TV by a very well-known and prestigious broadcaster, the journalist involved told me the video of his interview with Joan had received more views on their Facebook page than any other story to date!

Most of us animal lovers like to think we have a way with animals but every now and then you meet someone who really does seem to have an unspoken connection with the creatures they are helping and this is clear to see with Joan and her hedgehog charges. She had previously explained to me that one of the challenges in examining and treating injured hedgehogs is their natural instinct to roll into a defensive ball, but that for her the animals usually just uncurl. Witnessing this first hand was quite something to behold; I don’t think I had quite the same effect!

One hedgehog who was happily unfurled and willing to meet a visitor was Joan’s only permanent resident hedgehog Freddie, who has been with Joan for several years and cannot be released back into the wild as he is unable to fully curl into a ball and display his protective spikes to proper effect. So Freddie gets to spend extra time with Joan in a safe environment. He also accompanies her when she gives educational talks to local groups. The shorter-term resident hedgehogs are only handled as they need to be so most stayed in the comforting darkness of her purpose-built hospital (known as the Hedgehog Hosprickal) in her back garden. However, I was able to briefly meet one very young baby hedgehog, or hoglet, currently receiving care; one of four baby hedgehogs recently admitted with their mother after being discovered in the nick of time after seeking cover in a barbecue, just before it was due to be lit for a family feast.

Joan admits she really fell in love with hedgehogs when her first patient, Spike, wandered into her garden 17 years ago, clearly underweight and hungry. After seeking advice from other carers she coaxed Spike back to full health and released him; a litter of orphaned hoglets came next. Joan soon set up West Midlands Hedgehog Rescue and the rest is history. Joan says she still can’t put her finger on just what makes hedgehogs so special but she is aware that she seems to have a natural affinity with the animals which she adores and says she still finds it incredibly fulfilling when she can release them back into the wild where they belong.

The most dedicated rescuers sometimes risk becoming a victim of their own success when word gets about that they will be available day and night to pick up needy animals and provide care. With around 500 animals a year admitted by Joan, and hoglets requiring regular two-hourly feeds of special milk from a syringe, it is at times an almost round-the-clock mission.

Also having to factor in a daily visit to the vets with at least one of her charges, it is no surprise that as well as having few hours left to sleep, Joan sometimes faces the issue of more spiky patients than there is room for in her hospital, even with additional patients being nursed, when needed, in her house.

Fortunately, when spaces become scarce, Joan now has some additional support from a local wildlife rescue centre (which incidentally has also received an IFAW award for its services to wildlife) and staff there are able to regularly pick up extra patients to care for at their own premises.

However, the great British hedgehog constantly faces a range of threats including road accidents, poisoning by pesticides, traps, litter and habitat loss, so there is always a need for more help and with winter approaching Joan will continue to have her hands full. While she has built up a small but dedicated team of volunteers to assist with fundraising and other tasks she is keen for some extra support.

If you would like to find more useful information on hedgehog welfare, to support Joan’s work or if you live in the Midlands and might be able to offer your help, Joan can be contacted via her website or Facebook page.

Some final advice from Joan on how to spot if a hedgehog in your garden might need help: a hedgehog seen in daylight at any time, or a sick or ‘skinny’ underweight hedgehog, always needs help. Please also remember to check garden bonfires for sheltering hedgehogs before you light the fire.

Thanks for all you do for animals Joan, you are a true inspiration!


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