By Ruth Martin (Rescue Coordinator)
For those of us who are fortunate enough to be able to wind down for Christmas, this time of year provides an opportunity to reflect. Despite it being a difficult year for everyone, we have been amazed by the support of our wonderful followers, donors and wildlife finders, who have enabled us to grow our organisation since it was established in Spring 2020. Thanks to this support, we were able to set up a dedicated rescue phone line in October, which means we can help wildlife in need much more quickly and effectively.
Accordingly, we wanted to dedicate this Christmas blog to the kind members of the public who have taken time out of their busy days to step in and call us when they’ve spotted an animal in distress. If you have done this in 2020, thank you! It is no exaggeration to say that, without you, much of what we do would not be possible.
So, in recognition of the crucial role that wildlife finders play in our work, we wanted to share three of our favourite rescue stories which began with you, the public, calling our rescue phone.
1) Baz the Common Pipistrelle bat
In late October, we took a call from a lady in Cardiff who had found a common pipistrelle bat on the external wall of her flat. As he had not moved for some time, she decided to give us a call for advice.
It can be tricky to handle bats, and if they are in their roosts they should always be left alone because they are a European Protected Species so it is illegal to disturb them or their roosts at all. Even bat rehabilitators need special licences and vaccinations to do their work, so you should only intervene in an emergency after taking specialist advice from a bat carer or the Bat Conservation Trust.
However, after speaking with the finder we were able to guide her through the process of getting this little guy into a box and over to our bat carer and co-founder Ashley for assessment. Thankfully he was not injured or unwell, but as a lone juvenile we think he may have tried to set himself up for hibernation in an unsuitable spot. Where possible, we like to give our finders the opportunity to name animals that come into our care, and on this occasion the finder chose the name Baz. You may remember our Halloween post about him, which you can find here. Baz is still in our care building his strength over Winter so that he is ready for release in the Spring.
Please remember, if you do ever need to handle a bat because it is injured or otherwise in need of rescue, it is essential to wear thick gloves when doing so and be as gentle as you possibly can. Only handle the bat as much as you need to in order to get them into a box or other secure container with small airholes, a towel for them to shelter in to reduce stress and a little water in a shallow dish. After that, please make sure they are left in the box in a quiet place where they can stay undisturbed until urgent specialist help is found. This is important for all wildlife as shock or stress from handling and disturbance can be very dangerous for animals that aren’t used to captivity.
2) Willow the Brown Long-Eared bat
In mid-November, we took a call from a gentleman in a village outside Bristol. He had found poor Willow, a brown long-eared bat, stuck to a piece of sticky fly paper in his loft. As bats eat insects, she probably went in expecting to find her dinner, only to get caught up in this trap. Sadly she would have been unable to escape on her own, so she was very lucky the finder went into his attic that day and stepped in to help her.
When he called us, we were able to advise him not to try to remove her from the flypaper himself as it takes a great deal of skill and experience to do this without causing injury to their delicate wings, ears and bodies.
This gentleman was kind enough to drive Willow some distance to our co-founder and bat carer Charley in Bristol, who assessed her and made sure she had the care she needed to recover from her ordeal. Willow is now doing well and you can see our recent post about her progress here. Like the other bats in our care, Willow will be released when she is ready in the Spring.
Willow’s story shows how some methods of pest control, like flypaper, can have unintended consequences for other wildlife species. As wildlife lovers, we ask that people please avoid using chemical pesticides or sticky traps for this reason, as animals like flies - which some people might think of as pests – are actually important links in our precious ecosystems so using methods like these to control them can have negative consequences and animal suffering that we might not anticipate.
3) Houdini the Hedgehog
For the last rescue story in this blog, I wanted to draw attention to the vital role of teamwork in helping our wildlife species. Much of our work is only possible because donors, finders, vets, transporters (aka our ‘wildlife ambulance drivers’) and wildlife carers come together to help injured and distressed animals. One good example of this is hedgehog rescue.
Hedgehogs need specialist care, so hedgehog rehabbers undergo a lot of training before they can provide this. It can take a lot of space and resources, as individual hedgehogs may need to be kept separately to ensure any parasites are not passed between them and they often need heat pads and medications as part of their recovery.
These items are good examples of the kinds of things that donations made through our GoFundMe help us to pay for. As a new organisation, our capacity to look after hedgehogs has been limited this year for these reasons. So, when the rescue calls were coming in thick and fast letting us know about hedgehogs needing help this Autumn, it was vital to work together to ensure that they could be transported and assessed and that rehabilitation spaces could be found for them over Winter.
We work closely with Hedgehog Rescue Chipping Sodbury which is based over in England, but there is a lack of hedgehog rescues over in Cardiff and South Wales. Luckily we have an amazing vet nurse Lauren, who is able to assess our hedgehogs at the veterinary practice she works at to legally prescribe us the medication that the hedgehogs require. All medication must be prescribed from a vet which is why we recommend finders to take wildlife casualties especially hedgehogs, to a vet practice first.
In early November 2020 we got a phone call from a finder that had found a hedgehog in distress and out during the day. He was under 200g, seemed bright but needed urgent medical attention. We organised the finder to take the hedgehog to Valley Vets who assessed the hedgehog. He was underweight, had ringworm a fungal infection, was given antibiotics, and treated for lungworm. Ashley was then contacted to take over his care and ringworm treatment. His first night with Ashley, he escaped from his house and she found him sleeping nice and snug in the clean towels freshly laundered in the rehabilitation shed. He escaped from a tiny hole (hence the name) and was moved to an escape proof house. He is now almost 600g, is doing well and is recovering from the ringworm, which can be slow process.
Please remember that if you find a hedgehog that appears ill or injured, or is out in the daytime, they should be seen by a vet or specialist hedgehog rehabilitator for assessment. This applies at any time of year. However, hedgehogs are particularly vulnerable in the Autumn as they need to put on enough weight to survive their winter hibernation period. Generally, in the UK, by the time the frost comes in late Autumn/Winter, a wild hedgehog should be at least 450g, and ideally more like 600g, so that we can be confident they will have sufficient fat reserves to make it through hibernation and wake up in the Spring.
If you want to learn more about when a hedgehog may need rescuing, you can find a reputable overview of current advice here. With hedgehog populations in decline in the UK - and this once abundant garden species under threat from road traffic accidents, climate change and habitat loss as a result of human development – we are so grateful to everyone that spots a hedgehog in distress and gets them the help they need to maximise their chances of surviving in the wild.
Thank you for taking the time to read a little more about our work, and to get acquainted with the stories of just a few of the animals we’ve been able to rescue this year thanks to your support. We dedicate this to the compassionate people who contact us on our rescue phone for help and advice.
If you find an injured or distressed animal, don’t hesitate to call us on 07802 679744.
All of us at Severn Wildlife Rescue wish you a merry and restful Christmas and a very Happy New Year. We are so looking forward to helping even more of our precious wildlife in 2021!