2011 was certainly a cold start to a very busy year. Winter snow saw me having to bed down at the centre for numerous nights to take care of casualties and ensure they had food, water and received their medication.
IN January our Casualty Care Centre, which had only opened four months previous in September 2010, was completely full with a major influx of young hedgehogs during the winter.
FEBRUARY saw rescues include two pigeons in Eastbourne caught in netting behind Homebase and a wood pigeon caught in fishing line at the top of a tree near Moat Pond, East Grinstead. The fire service uses these incidents as training exercises to help teach new recruits.
A RESCUER went to check out a badger found curled up behind a toilet at a language school in Eastbourne in March.
It was caught and brought in for 24 hours observation before being declared fit and well for release the following night.
March also saw our first baby fox cubs of the year which came in from Hastings. A family heard them crying under some decking and went to investigate but thought they were kittens. Sadly after a failed attempt to reunite them with mum they had to come in for care at WRAS Casualty Centre at Whitesmith.
IN 2009 WRAS dealt with eight baby deer and in 2010 it was just four so nobody thought we would end up dealing with 18 in 2011, again really pushing our resources to the limit.
Only one of the 18 deer dealt with in 2011 has been an orphan - the rest have all been injuries, either caught in stock fencing, attacked by dogs, hit by cars etc.
Several had to be put to sleep due to the severity of injuries, like one which had hurt all four legs and would never walk again.
However, our hearts were lifted when Button, a fallow deer rescued a couple of years ago, brought her own baby back to see us in the summer.
APRIL saw us deal with two orphaned badger cubs in one day, including one which just started following a lady walking her dog around Friston Forest.
We also had an amazing 4.5 hour rescue of three baby fox cubs at Dallington near Heathfield. A lady on a horse found a little cub in the middle of a quiet lane and popped it into a nearby den but then found a dead vixen close by so called WRAS.
The vixen was lactating and was clearly the mum of these cubs, so the cubs had to be rescued or they would have starved. This was easier said than done as they were inside the den. Rescuer Kathy had to crawl inside the entrance which was made wider using spades.
The den turned 90 degrees into a natural sandstone cavity, but this made the capture very difficult.
After 4.5 hours Kathy emerged with the final cub and plenty of black and blue bruises. Our friends at Wildlife A&E at Rotherfield, who also attended and helped with the rescue, kindly took them on for hand rearing.
WRAS was called to deal with a badger which had fallen into an unused swimming pool a Windmill Hill. Once caught it was taken to WRAS’s Casualty Centre and then returned in the evening back where found, and given a talking to so it doesn’t fall in again!
ON MAY 3 rescuers were called to deal with a baby owl out of a nest in a woodland near Battle. As a general rule owls at the base of trees should be left alone but this one was on a very busy dog walking path, so rescuers erected a ladder to place the owl back in his nest.
On May 11 WRAS rescuers used a children’s toy to rescue a bird of prey trapped in a building in Bell Lane, Uckfield. The sparrowhawk flew inside the store and wouldn’t leave.
Rescuers used a cheap children’s night vision viewer to catch the bird in the dark as sparrowhawks do not like flying in the dark, therefore they are much easier to catch.
2011 was a busy year for birds of prey trapped in buildings and later in the year saw WRAS called out to Newhaven Fort and the Carpet Right warehouse at Uckfield too.
COUNTRYLINE buses called out WRAS in June after a kestrel spent three days stuck inside a double decker.
The bird put up very little fight being caught and was found to be very emaciated. It took quite a while to build up the birds strength before it could be returned back to the wild.
IN JULY WRAS was called to another sparrowhawk in a warehouse at Hampden Park. The bird was extremely high up and rescuers had to strap two full length poles together to reach high enough to attempt capture.
WRAS’s baby deer season started on May 20 with a baby roe deer found at Chiddingly in the middle of field. The poorly little one was emaciated and cold and had been picked up by a farmer. It was taken on by WRAS’s orphaned deer foster parents Chris & Sylvia up on Ashdown Forest and then passed on to Debbie from Wildlife A&E at Rotherfield.
AUGUST saw WRAS releasing a nice adult Tawny Owl back where found just north of Uckfield. A local motorist originally rescued the bird which was hit by a car. As she stopped and tried to rescue it, the bird flew up into the windscreen of a second car before she was able to pick him up.
She rushed him to a local vets who gave initial first aid treatment before passing the owl to WRAS for care.
With a couple of weeks of care and attention the bird made a full recovery and was released in a wooded glade close to where found near Herons Ghyll just of the A26.
SEPTEMBER saw rescuers from Uckfield and Polegate rush to the aid of a roe deer caught in stock fencing in the middle of Abbots Wood near Hailsham. The deer was extremely lucky and had only been caught for a short period of time, possibly less than two hours.
We had to carry it about 1.5 miles through the forest back to the ambulance, with rescuers walking in front asking owners to keep dogs under control to avoid stressing the deer. The ligature wounds to the rear leg were luckily very minor and as a result the deer was releasable within just three days of rescue.
THE autumn hedgehog season started in October with juvenile hedgehogs admitted, some weighing as little as 70g when they should be over 600g. Oddly most of them were coming in from Westham. We have now rescued 14 hedgehogs from Westham, all underweight between 100 and 400 grams and too small to hibernate properly.
This year has certainly been a year of bizarre rescues and in October we were called to a young swan caught between a chain-link fence and a metal storage container at Ditchling Common Industrial Estate.
The young swan, thought to be about 18 months old, hit trees on the edge of the common and industrial estate, and somehow managed to find its way behind the storage unit and get wedged.
I had to use the ambulance to climb over a locked chain link fence to get to the swan, and squeeze between the fence and container to rescued it.
The swan then had to be passed back over the fence. After a few days of rest and care the swan had made a full recovery and was released again at Ditchling Common lake.
October was very much a pigeon month, with quite a few young ones being rescued and cared for.
WRAS volunteers Kate, Kathy and Carrie have been very busy hand rearing these birds and taking them home to give between two and four hourly feeds.
Runner Karen Breeze has been amazing this year supporting WRAS. First of all she ran nine marathons in nine weeks ending on the London Marathon and then decided to run the Beachy Head Marathon dressed in WRAS’s deer costume.
THE BEGINNING of November saw WRAS appoint Kate Cuddis as the new assistant manager at WRAS’s Casualty Care Centre at Whitesmith.
WRAS now has more than 50 volunteers who help with the feeding and cleaning shifts, but only four key people are available on a regular basis to help with rescues which is a difficult and very challenging role which most struggle to commit to.
A very old and emaciated badger was rescued at Horam in November, at first it looked quite small and young, but on closer inspection it turned out to be a very old badger with just three very worn teeth meaning it couldn’t eat properly causing it to become emaciated.
The poor badger had to be put to sleep to prevent further suffering, but it was great to see that with all the dangers out there some do survive to a ripe old age.
I joined rescuers from Polegate for a dangerous rescue of a stag caught in electric fencing near Maresfield. It was trapped by its antlers on electric rope across a field and could run in for about 40-50 metres either side of the original fence line.
Rescuers used a special walk-towards net to catch and secure the deer. Once caught they had a 30-minute window to free the deer or it could suffer from a stress induced heart attack and die.
Luckily this rescue took just eight minutes and the stag ran off afterwards very well without suffering any lasting damage.
BY THE start of December WRAS had more than 65 hedgehogs in care, over 20 up on the same time last year.
We also have a hedgehog in suffering from mange, the poor one was so crusty it could not curl up in a ball. But with three weeks of treatment, the little chap made a full recovery but it is now too late in the year to release him and will stay with us till the spring for release.
WRAS were called to eight road casualty foxes in just three weeks at the beginning of December, of which the majority have not survived due to the severity of their injuries.
However, two cases have been successfully treated and returned to the wild at Polegate and Sovereign Harbour, Eastbourne.
It has been a great year working with our two consultant vets Simon Harris (locum) and Chris Hall (Henley House Vets Uckfield) and has seen a big reduction in veterinary bills being submitted by other practices. We have continued to work with eight other veterinary practices across the area and would especially thank St Anne’s Vets, Chase Vets, Henley House Vets, Vets Now, Greenleaves Vets for going beyond the boundaries of most other practices in helping wildlife casualties in need.
WRAS now has more than 50 volunteers which help with the three-four hour feeding and cleaning shift and without their help and support it would not be possible to function.
They are all an amazing bunch and on behalf of the animals we rescue I would like to personally thank them all.
It never fails to amaze me that over 25 years ago I was jumping on buses to rescue oiled seabirds on Sussex beach. I did not think that when I was 40 I would be running WRAS with a fleet of four veterinary ambulances and a small wildlife hospital.
And without the support of the Gazette and its readers this would not be possible, so thank you all very much and I wish you all a merry Christmas and prosperous New Year.
East Sussex WRAS is a voluntary organisation which relies on donations, receiving no funding from government or the RSPCA. Anyone wishing to make a donation should contact the treasurer at PO Box 2148, Seaford, BN25 9DE.
24-hour rescue line: 07815 078234