Caring for wild things
A Lincolnshire animal rescue charity dedicated to the ethical rehabilitation of sick, injured and orphaned wildlife has gone from strength to strength. Now it has ambitious plans to create a network of wildlife hospitals, as Kate Chapman reports.
Wild Things Rescue was set up by animal lover Lucy Steele, of Tattershall, in 2016 and has helped hundreds of rabbits, hares, hedgehogs, birds and more species get the urgent medical and loving care they need so they can return to their natural habitats.
Lucy has established a network of foster carers to look after the animals until they can be released and is now turning a former office building in Langrick into a wildlife hospital, with a view to opening similar facilities in other parts of Lincolnshire.
“Our ultimate goal is to have a dedicated wildlife rescue centre within Lincolnshire. One with on-site vets and large pre-release enclosures, and an area for X-rays and minor surgeries. We’re dreaming big but we will get there!” says Lucy, who previously worked at a veterinary surgery.
“In 2020 Wild Things Rescue took in about 500 animals, last year that increased to 854 – we see a lot of hedgehogs, rabbits, hares and birds of prey but we’re also getting a lot more seabirds, including some really unusual species.
“There’s been an increase in incidents of human-wildlife conflict too. Just as an example, people have been walking in the countryside more during lockdown. In 2019 we had three baby hares brought in; last year there were 15, because people thought they needed our help. They weren’t familiar with what they’re doing in their natural habitat so we’re also working to try and educate people.”
Lucy, who moved to Lincolnshire from Hertfordshire when she was six, has always been passionate about animals and helping injured wildlife.
“I was always picking up waifs and strays, things like hedgehogs, and then we had a couple of house martins, which fell from the roof. We found a domestic rabbit once too,” she recalls.
“My family has always been very supportive – my sister works in horse rescue, so they’re all used to us now! I was told I could bring anything I wanted home, except birds or cats – the bird ban didn’t last long, although I’ve only brought one kitten back!”
Lucy was 21 when she began working in a veterinary practice and saw first-hand the plight of the county’s wildlife, which worsened following the closure of Lincoln’s Weirfield Wildlife Hospital in 2016.
“Animals were coming into the practice, but there was nowhere to send them for rehabilitation. I ended up taking a lot home. Other people heard about what I was doing and within six months I was inundated,” says Lucy, who provides wildlife educational courses as well as working as a gym coach.
“I’d got my life planned out, this wasn’t part of it – well, not until later on, when I was older and in a better financial position.
“Initially it was just me rehabilitating the animals, although I could only do so much on my own. Then I started connecting with other people online who were doing similar things because there were no other facilities in the county, and it grew from there.”
Lucy quickly established a fostering network, now made up of 30 experienced volunteers who can care for sick animals at their homes, many of whom have their own specialism, with some focusing on ducklings, while others take in pigeons or concentrate on hares and rabbits.
In 2018 Lucy made the rescue network a Community Interest Company, to secure more funding, but when she found the structure limiting, she took the plunge and created a registered charity, which provided a much-needed financial boost. Wild Things Rescue was awarded £8,000 and used the funds to transform an area of land it had been given into a wildlife release site. The team is now working to transform its building in Langrick.
“Fundraising has always been ongoing, but it’s getting harder, especially since Covid,” adds Lucy.
“Lots of charities are all competing for the same funds. Things have become more expensive too – vets’ fees, feed costs and delivery charges are all increasing.
“It currently costs us around £2,500 per month to keep going and the number of animals we’re treating is also increasing.”
The charity receives around 40 messages and requests for help each day. Alongside its team of fosterers, eight more volunteers work on a shift basis to respond to the calls and messages, while another seven are involved in fundraising.
“There’s a real mix of people but it’s a great community. We have some who’ve just come out of college, others who are unable to work, maybe due to a medical condition, or simply cannot find work and some are retired and just want something to do – and we’re always looking for more to join us!” adds Lucy.
Over the years Lucy has been involved in hundreds of animal rescues. Among them is a pair of ravens – Lincolnshire’s rarest breeding birds – who fell from their nest in Bourne Woods following strong winds. The pair are being well looked after and will be returned to their natural habitat once they’ve fledged. Lucy believes they’re the only ones of their kind to be rehabilitated in the county.
She added: “We took on a kestrel at the start of the year – a gentleman contacted us after it was hit by his car. We were able to fetch the bird and rehabilitate her thanks to his quick thinking – people don’t often stop, so this really made a difference in this instance.
“Other animals rescued include a group of five ducklings, who were found at Christmas following a brief heatwave. They’ve since been released, along with a little auk bird, which had been blown off course by strong winds.
“At the moment we can’t look after otters, badgers or deer but we work alongside the RSPCA to get them the care they need. We’re doing the best we can to help as many animals as we can – and that’s the plan going forward.”
To find out more about supporting or volunteering for Wild Things Rescue, call 01526 578579 or make contact through their website by visiting www.wildthingsrescue.uk
Photographs: courtesy of Wild Things Recsue