Why couple set up Prickleback Urchin Hedgehog Rescue in Rutland
Kindly people can make big mistakes when trying to rescue hedgehogs.
Rachel Thomas and husband Jay Calmus know this only too well, having got it wrong in the past.
But now the couple run a hedgehog rescue centre - and it is to them that local vets often turn for expert help.
In the past two years Rachel and Jay have looked after 257 hedgehogs at their home in Market Overton.
They have turned their dining room into a hospital and have further equipment in the garage and shed so they can give the now-endangered animals brought to them the best chance of survival.
“It started when we found a hedgehog that was struggling and rang several rescue centres locally and further afield but were told every one of them was full,” said Rachel.
“There was no hedgehog rescue centre in Rutland at all, which surprised us, but our vet at the time said they would work with us so that we could care for the hedgehog at home.”
Rachel and Jay did lots of research, looking at information from The British Hedgehog Preservation Society, which provides expert advice rather than hedgehog hearsay.
Rachel even went on a course with a view to setting up a hedgehog rescue centre for Rutland, but when she discovered all the work involved, she was put off.
Get the news delivered straight to your inbox - sign up to The Briefing here
“We both have full-time jobs and it just seemed like too much to manage,” she said.
“Hedgehogs can need a long rehabilitation and daily injections of fluids and medication.”
But in July 2021 they ‘stuck their heads above the parapet’ and decided to launch Prickleback Urchin Hedgehog Rescue.
Each morning Rachel and Jay get up at 5am to clean out each hedgehog’s individual accommodation, weighing them and administering food, fluids and medication as needed.
They handle each animal as little as possible - respecting the fact they are wild creatures not to be petted - and keep the hospital warm and quiet.
Rachel then heads off to work as an audiologist for Boots Hearing Care in Grantham, while Jay is a local dog walker.
After work the couple carry out other hedgehog-related tasks, including meticulous paperwork to ensure medication is logged, and registering any incoming animals from veterinary practices or from members of the public.
“People are very fond of hedgehogs,” said Rachel.
“I think it’s because they are quite enigmatic - we might catch a glimpse of them in the dark but, unlike a lot of wildlife, they don’t tend to run away, instead rolling up into a ball in front of us.
“They are solitary and bumbling and this too seems to appeal.”
While hedgehogs out and about in the dark is normal, seeing one out in the day can be a sign of problems.
“If it’s an adult hedgehog moving with purpose in a certain direction, it might be a nesting mum,” said Jay.
“But if it’s wobbling or ‘sunbathing’ this can be a sign of dehydration, or if it’s running about manically this could mean it’s been overwhelmed by a parasite.”
Hedgehogs are particularly prone to dehydration and leaving water out in low dishes all year around is something the British Hedgehog Society - and Rachel and Jay - encourage as a free way to help them.
“Often people try to feed a hedgehog they find that is injured or unhealthy but they really need warmth and water.
“People often put hedgehogs in a box and then put the box in a garage or cold conservatory.
“The best thing to do is use a high-sided box they can’t escape from, bring it inside, wrap a hot water bottle in an old towel and provide water.”
There also is a misconception that taking a hedgehog to the vets will result in a bill, or the vet will just put it down. Neither is true.
“Vets can’t charge people for treating a wild animal and they will usually contact a rescue centre like ours,” said Rachel.
“Certainly the vets in Rutland are aware of us.”
People should also pass on details of where the hedgehog was found - Rachel and Jay will release those they rehabilitate back into their original location because hedgehogs appear to retain a ‘map’ in their brains of their environment.
In an urban environment, where hedgehogs are maintaining their numbers, they need about 40 gardens to hunt for their diet of creepy crawlies.
New homes are supposed to be built with small gaps in fences to allow hedgehogs to travel from one garden to the next, and people in older homes are encouraged not to block off access completely. Hedgehogs are also big fans of ‘untidy’ gardens, with leaves and undergrowth to hide and nest under.
While Rachel and Jay run Prickleback because of their love of hedgehogs, the cost of pet food in the past year has increased and they use £50-a-bag Royal Canin kitten food because they feel it gives better nutrition for recovery.
As a result of this - and to improve transparency for the financial donations they receive - the couple are registering Prickleback Urchin Hedgehog Rescue as a charity.
For the time being, they have a Go Fund Me page https://www.gofundme.com/f/hedgehog-rescue-rutland , people can donate by standing order through their website https://pricklebackurchin.org.uk/ and they have an Amazon Wishlist for people to purchase particular goods.
Items people can buy and donate are also listed on the website.
Advice from The British Hedgehog Preservation Society
If you have found a hedgehog you are concerned about, use gardening gloves or a folded towel to collect it up, bring it indoors and put it in a high-sided box with an old towel or fleece in the bottom for the hedgehog to hide under.
Fill a hot water bottle so that when it is wrapped in a towel there is gentle heat coming through and put that in the bottom of the box with the hedgehog, ensuring it has room to get off the bottle should it get too warm. Make sure the bottle is always kept warm.
During particularly hot weather providing heat may not be necessary.
Put the box somewhere quiet.
Offer fresh water and call 01584 890 801 for further advice and the numbers of local independent rehabilitators.