Hedgehogs are lovely, completely inoffensive creatures and, because of their gentle sweet nature, are Britain’s most accessible and well loved wild animal. They are our natural heritage. But they are critically endangered – more so than even the tiger. The BTO have estimated that if the current decline in numbers continues, by 2020 the last hedgehog in England will die. I am devoted to saving these precious little animals and am determined to do all I can to help halt this tragic decline.
Hugo is my oldest patient.
Members of the public bring me sick or injured hedgehogs and orphaned babies. I take them in, keep them warm and safe and fed, and give them the medical treatment they need. Once they are fit and well I return them to the wild, where they can breed a healthy new generation.
Hugo is one of the rare exceptions.
I do this out of love, there is no charge. But love doesn't pay the bills. I have no funding; everything I use to save the animals - from the vet's bills and antibiotics, right down to the feeding bowls - all comes from my own pocket. I occasionally receive a small donation from the finders, but more often than not, they are just so relieved to be free of the responsibility of the little life they've helped save, they forget.
Hugo wasn't brought to me; he found me all by his own clever self.
Two or three times each week throughout October and November (when the Autumn babies arrive) the doorbell will ring and there will be someone standing there, holding a tiny hedgehog that is covered in their dog's saliva and bleeding, or is freezing cold and coughing with lungworm.
In addition to all the other misfortunes he has suffered, Hugo has survived lungworm, but his lungs are damaged.
By December last year I ran out of room and, as I couldn’t turn a needy animal away, I had to have a new hedgehog hospital cabin built, which used up all of my savings. Then, 3 weeks ago, tragedy struck – I lost the roof from the main cabin annex.
Hugo is in hibernation right now, so is blissfully unaware that he has literally lost the roof from over his head.
Hugo is an old boy (you can tell by the slight ginger tint to his fur) and has had a hard life. Hedgehogs can live as long as dogs, but sadly, most are very lucky to see their third year. Despite his age, most of the time Hugo is healthy and happy now. But that wasn't always the case.
When the hedgehogs I take in have finished their treatment they are moved to the outdoor lodge for a couple of weeks, totally hands-off, to allow them to fear humans again and get used to the outside temperature and smells, before being released back to the wild.
In the summer of 2016, as I was cleaning out the houses, I heard a strange sound coming from one of the empty pens.
When I reviewed the footage from the previous night (each pen, inside and out, has its own CCTV camera) I saw the most bedraggled, thin, half-bald hedgehog limping and dragging his way slowly into the refuge of the pen. Each breath he took sounded like a newspaper being crumpled.
I have no idea how he found me, or how he knew this would be a safe haven.
Poor Hugo was covered in ticks and had ringworm, along with every single internal parasite a hedgehog can suffer from. He was also suffering from malnutrition and his legs could barely support him. I suspect, once he'd become too ill to forage for his own natural food he had been surviving from the spillage of a bird table somewhere (meal worms, peanuts and sunflower seeds are all bad foods for hedgehogs as the ratio of phospherous to calcium they contain leads to metabolic bone disease).
He needed a lot of treatment and medications but he survived. When he’d regained a good healthy weight I opened his pen so he could return to the wild. But Hugo had other ideas. He'd found a lovely retirement home where he felt safe and wanted to stay.
Because he was taking up a much-needed pen I made room for him in the annex, where all the essential supplies of hay, newspapers and food are kept dry and safe. I built him his own pen and moved his house in.
He’s lived there ever since and although his breathing will always be noisy and he occasionally needs treating for chest infections, he quite happily wanders the neighbourhood every night and courts all the newly released girls each spring.
But now the race is on.
Hugo is in hibernation and is temporarily living in the treatment room as his home is no longer safe. But he’ll wake up towards the end of March, so all roof repairs to his house and the building noise those will make need to be finished by then.
To repair the annex exterior (and the water damage inside) and put on the new roof will cost almost £2,000. I don’t mind the work but I desperately need help with the funding. Your donation will not only make this a safe and secure forever home for Hugo, you will be helping all the other Hugos of the future.
I expect you already knew about the critical state our hedgehogs are in, because reports of their endangerment and threat of extinction are regularly in the news. And because you are reading this I know you are interested and are compassionate. Now is your chance to provide real, practical and personal help to these sweet creatures.