BIG READ 'Everything deserves the chance to live'

A fox currently being treated at Brent Lodge
A fox currently being treated at Brent Lodge

On flights of fancy with the Flamingods at Psych Fest

We stopped counting when we got to 190,' says Emma Pink about the number of hedgehogs they have taken in lately at Brent Lodge Wildlife Hospital.

Every spare space is stacked with cages, many with signs on the door saying '2 hogs in here' or similar, and details of their treatment.

Staff at Brent Lodge. From left: Darren Ashcroft, Tanya Durrant, Sam Thorp, Anniemae Leason, Rob Jones and front, Emma Pink.

Staff at Brent Lodge. From left: Darren Ashcroft, Tanya Durrant, Sam Thorp, Anniemae Leason, Rob Jones and front, Emma Pink.

Staff and volunteers alike are busy shredding bundles of newspaper that will become bedding for the spiky little critters.

It is a hive of endless activity, caring for the hundreds of creatures in their care.

Over the course of the year, the hospital takes in around 3,000 birds and animals, from the hedgehogs to pigeons, foxes, badgers, rabbits, fawns, gulls, the occasional bird of prey, and frankly, whatever comes to their doorstep.

Emma lives on site and manages the hospital with her partner Darren Ashcroft.

Pigeons being looked after at Brent Lodge

Pigeons being looked after at Brent Lodge

'I started here when I was 12 as a volunteer – the then-manager was my next door neighbour, it started off as something to do on Saturdays.

'The dream job for me was to be an RSPCA inspector, but you get bitten by the bug when you're here and then you never leave.

'It's such a different aspect of animal care and it's so rewarding. And you get to right a few wrongs as a few of them are here directly because of human causes.'

The nature of the job changes a great deal throughout the year.

Lyle, the snowy owl at Brent Lodge

Lyle, the snowy owl at Brent Lodge

About 95 per cent of admissions come direct from the public, the rest come from other rescue centres if they can't take them in, but as Emma notes, 'we're not a rescue service.'

'This is very seasonal work,' explains Emma, 'we turn into hedgehog hotel at this time of year. Some of them are poorly, most are just too small to survive the cold when they come to us.

'Some don't make it, some are released – releasing them back into the wild is our ultimate goal.

'We are very close to capacity, but all of the years I've worked here we have never turned anyone away who needs help. As long as we are able to help, we make space, but you can't go beyond your means.'

With literally dozens of new charges arriving daily, the hospital, based in Sidlesham, near Chichester, relies on its volunteers.

But for those who work there, voluntarily or paid, it is clear it's a labour of love.

'There's 35-40 new patients coming in a day in the summer months, and we take about 100 calls a day on the phone. We probably get 4-500 baby ducklings in the summer. There are less patients coming in during winter, but it's more labour intensive with the work.

'They are a good team we've got here and they will often come in on their days off – they're amazing, they work overtime for free.

'And our volunteers come in for no reward, other than they're here to help.

'They do it just for the love of doing it. Without them we physically couldn't do our jobs – they're incredible, they do so much.

'We've got about 40-50 across the board, that includes in our charity shops and here as well.

'We get so much support in general from the public.'

With so many animals to take care of, the costs stack up quickly. Without donations the food bill alone can run to several hundred pounds a week.

'Whatever people donate, that means we don't have to spend, so we can put the money into the facilities instead. We want to have the very best facilities we can provide.'

To that end, Brent Lodge does have some grand plans in the pipeline. 'We want to double our capacity, and we also want to make it more bio-secure, so we aren't spreading anything between the patients.

'If someone walks past the cages and they've come into contact at home with bird flu, that's condemning all of our birds to death without meaning to.

'It's all about future-proofing the facilities, so we don't need to do this again any time soon, we need to make sure we've got enough space and to make sure that the charity is safe so the animals have got somewhere to go.

'There are a few other places which have had to shut their doors and say: "No" to taking in any more animals.'

While the lodge's staff can offer basic first aid and antibiotics to their charges, they have a vet who handles the more serious problems. Richard Edwards, a director of AlphaPets in Bognor Regis, or one of his associates, comes to the hospital and does the rounds once a week.

'Our vet gives up their time for free, and they're available to us 24/7 if we need them

'Richard is one of those guys, whether it's a pigeon of a hedgehog, nothing's more deserving of attention than another.

'Some people might think, why are you going to all of this effort to save a pigeon? But everything deserves the chance to live.'

Rob Knight, general manager, keeps things running smoothly behind the scenes.

He had previously worked as the area retail manager for a national charity. 'You could work your fingers to the bone, but you wouldn't necessarily see the results.

'I wanted to work with a smaller charity on a local scale where I could see the impact we were making. Living locally I knew about Brent Lodge, so when this vacancy came up I went for it.'

Rob is now working on the fundraising campaign to revamp the site, and is aiming to add to the four charity shops they currently run.

To find out more about fundraising or volunteering opportunities go to brentlodge.org or call 01243 641672.

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The animal hospital aims to double in size in the next five years.

There are major plans for Brent Lodge over the next few years.

The intention is to double the size of the hospital and create bespoke wards and aviaries for the different types of birds and animals they look after, as well as a new isolation unit and a new reception area.

It will also enable them to keep animals that are predator and prey in the wild in separate areas.

'We haven't been able to do these things at the moment because we're so limited in space,' adds manager Emma Pink.

But all of this comes at a cost – they are looking at raising around £400,000.

They have four charity shops, including one in Havant's West Street, and they hope to open another in east Hampshire. For more on their fundraising go to brentlodge.org

From volunteers to staff

Anniemae Leason first came to the lodge on work experience, and now works there part-time while she finishes her degree in animal behaviour and welfare.

The 20-year-old from Farlington says: 'Before I came here I wanted to do something like work with the RSPCA or work with companion animals – cats and dogs, that kind of thing. I had never thought of doing something like this, but when I came here, it changed my mind completely.'

She's hoping to eventually work there full time.

'Not everyone gets to do a job like this, I'm very lucky,' she adds. 'It's not for everyone, there's a lot of feeding and cleaning, but I would encourage people to give it a try.'

And she admits it can be hard to not get attached to the animals.

'I do try not to, but it can be difficult. If there's one that's really poorly and it pulls through, then you do get attached to them.

Tanya Durrant from Fratton, works three days a week at Brent Lodge and three days as music venue The Wedgewood Rooms' design and marketing manager.

She was volunteering at the lodge when she decided to go back to university and study animal welfare. From there her volunteering became a job.

'I was more zoo oriented on the welfare side of things, and into research, but we've only really got Marwell around here and that's it.

'I did some great work experience with big cats, but I've gone from that to hedgehogs!' she laughs.

'I do like the feistier animals – we've got a buzzard coming in later and I can't wait.'