UCKED away in a cosy cottage in Berkshire is a hospital that rescues over 700 hedgehogs a year.
In 2007, web developer Gill Lucraft started the rescue centre Hedgehog Bottom after discovering a hedgehog hidden under a pile of leaves in her garden.
She said: “We looked after the little one right the way through the winter and in the Spring it came out, we were absolutely delighted. We called him Speedy Gonzalez, and it all started from there.
“Six months later, a tiny baby one came out during the day and collapsed on my feet in the heat. We whipped him off to another rescue and then we decided we could probably do it ourselves so that is pretty much how Hedgehog Bottom started.
“The first year we took in three over the winter. The following year we had six and then it went to 80 and then it went to a 150 and now we have anything upwards of two hundred over the winter.”
Her love of the iconic British animal has taken over entire rooms of her house and hogs are stacked up in her dining room as well as a small hospital building with the exotics in the living room.
The hedgehog lover deals with everything from mange and ringworm to dog bites and horrific strimmer injuries with the help of her local vet and a team of dedicated volunteers.
Despite the range of injuries and conditions the team deal with, most days are more focused on dealing with the masses of poo hedgehogs emit.
All their boxes have to be cleaned out daily and Gill also has to bathe her African pygmy hedgehogs every couple of days to wash off their ‘poo boots.’
Gill said: “They can’t be released into the wild because they would die, so they are permanently in cages and in order to get enough exercise they are given a large rat wheel to run on every night.
“The problem with that is hedgehogs are notorious for pooing as they go and so on a wheel it’s captive poo. They just run through it so they get absolutely covered and we have to clean their feet because they get poo boots!”
Luckily Gill and her volunteers are rewarded for their strong noses with adorable hoglets during breeding season, however they do have to bottle-feed the prickly babies every two hours.
Gill said: “With the climate change going on at the moment, we have started having littles being born in February and going right way through until November.
“So, where we used to be hand feeding for a limited amount of time, it’s now dragged out much, much longer so it can mean that you drag yourself out of bed at six o’clock in the morning.
“You start feeding babies normally every two hours, so if you have got a large litter you are going round and round and round in circles and we don’t finish until two o’clock in the morning, then you collapse and get up again at six o’clock the following morning.
Where possible, Gill ensures that all wild hedgehogs are released back into the wild, preferably in the same place they were found or rescued from.
Other hedgehogs are released into their rescuers gardens, so that they can keep an eye on them as they adjust to their wild lifestyle again. Some of Gill’s hogs are sent to a local farm, which puts out plenty of food and water for the prickly creatures.
Although hedgehogs are an iconic part of British wildlife, they are facing a decline in their population and the need for rescue centres is growing.
Gill added: “In the last 20 years we’ve been killing them by the thousands and the numbers have dropped right down.
“They are not currently on the endangered species list but they are in severe decline and the more we can do to help them the better.”
A lack of respect for the precious animals has also caused issues and Gill recalls several incidents of horrific human abuse, including the death of one hedgehog whose broken rib punctured her lung and killed her after a group of drunken men used her as a football.
However, Gill says that it is possible to do more to help – cutting holes in garden fences encourages them to travel more, preventing inbreeding, and people must remember to thoroughly check their long grass and hedges before strimming in the summer.
Although she does not recommend the lack of sleep, Gill says anyone can set up a rescue if they seek the right advice.
She said: “If people want to set up their own hedgehog rescue the first thing I would say is don’t, don’t! It’s a slippery slope. You start off with one and then you lose your life completely!
“Basically the first thing you need to do is find another rescue that’s willing to work with you, because if you just start up by yourself what tends to happen is you find you’re taking in animals and wasting a hell of a lot of money on resources while you learn the ropes.”