If you read the blog regularly, you’ll know we flipping love animals (understatement of the century), but what should you do if you ever find sick, injured or orphaned wildlife in Somerset? Who you gonna call? (We’ll give you a clue. It’s absolutely not Ghostbusters! ;))
Secret World Wildlife Rescue is the brilliant charity to contact if you suspect an animal or bird is injured, or needs help. The team is here 365 days a year to ‘rescue, rehabilitate and release’ our wildlife in need and a few weeks ago, we went behind the scenes at their Rescue Centre in East Huntspill to find out more about the wonderful work they do, some of the characters they care for and how we can all help to support them.
As soon as we arrive at the Centre, the team take a call about a bird with an injured wing, near Bath. It’s receptionist Louise’s job to find a Response Driver volunteer to go there, rescue the bird and bring it back for assessment and treatment…
… and that’s typical of the daily calls the Centre receives. The charity rescues or advises the public on over 5,000 animals and birds a year, including hundreds of wildlife orphans - otters, badgers, foxes and birds of prey, which they hand-rear, care for and rehabilitate.
Meet ‘Amora’, their first orphaned otter cub of this year...
This little lady was found hidden in some reeds and was calling for her mother. As it was so cold and she’d been calling for quite some time, Head of Animal Care, Laura, and Animal Carer, Sarah, went out to her to see what they could do. They brought the courageous cub back to the Centre and Laura has been acting as her surrogate mother ever since... bottle feeding her and teaching her to swim.
When we visited on Valentine’s Day, Amore had only just had her first bath... but she's been capturing the hearts of everyone who has met her since day one, so you could say she certainly suits her name! :)
These four beautiful baby rabbits are also now safe and sound at the Centre, after a call from the public came in. Their mum had settled in a builders yard amongst some wood but when the wood was sold and being moved, the babies were found and mum was gone.
And say hello to Greg and Graham, nicknamed ‘The grumpy’s’! ;)
When a tree was cut down and a nest destroyed, these two precious wood pigeon babies fell out. A kind neighbour brought the squabs into the Centre where they were immediately assessed - and like all animals brought in for care they were taken here, to the assessment area, where any incoming casualties are treated.
Once that’s happened, there are numerous pens and areas new arrivals can be settled in to, depending on the extent of any injury. There are also intensive care facilities where patients receive round the clock attention - like this heron, who was found by a local couple when they were out walking.
He was incredibly underweight and the team were worried he wouldn't survive, but after going straight into a casualty pen, with a heat lamp to warm him up, he happily gobbled down some sardines! He's getting stronger every day and should hopefully be released soon - just another example of the amazing work the volunteers and carers carry out, at this secret world in the heart of Somerset.
On our visit we meet one new arrival, a mallard duck, who has a large wound on her wing and who was very stressed when she first came to the Centre. It’ll take around six weeks for her wound to heal and the feathers to grow back, but she’s making good progress in her pen and the team say she’s a real success story:
“We get lots of success stories like these” Gemma Clark, Fundraising and Events Co-ordinator tells us, “but of course there are also sad stories, and our staff and volunteers are amazing as they have to go through lots of difficult times. The animals that survive and recover make it all worthwhile though”.
Animals like this swan... who collapsed on a path near Bawdrip.
The swan was incredibly weak on arrival at the Centre, but once he was given food and care he was moved to Secret World's water paddock for the final stage of his rehab.
As Gemma tells us:
"We actually get lots of swans brought here, especially in the colder weather. They see the shine on the roads and think they're landing on to water, so it can be really dangerous - and obviously we have the motorway nearby. A short while ago we helped a swan who had been hit by a train too, another who flew into a power line and we've recently released 'Ant and Dec' back into the wild... two swans who came to us separately as young rescues. We placed them both in the same pen and they became really good friends, so we decided to release them together".
We get a warm, fuzzy feeling hearing this particular story (and a bit of dust in our eyes! ;)) and it was Centre volunteers Graeme and Vicki who took these two beautiful feathered friends to be released. As we discover, SWWR has a large network of volunteers who provide all sorts of skills, but the charity always needs more people who can offer their help. As Gemma says:
“We're always on the look out for more volunteers… from animal care and supporting release (the things Graeme and Vicki help with), to office admin, gardening, maintenance and laundry. We don’t get Government funding and every one of our volunteers does a critical job, so we really welcome anyone who can spare a few hours a week and would love to help British Wildlife".
And it's obvious to us that the team here is like a family... working together to deliver the best care possible for injured Somerset wildlife. We talk to the guys about Stuart, a volunteer who has helped the charity for over 25 years and Pat, who volunteers by taking on the laundry for the Centre. Now that's a job and a half! We find out just how key it is to caring for the animals too... whether it's clean towels, blankets or freshly-washed teddies for any orphans that are brought in.
Here’s another little pigeon squab, beneftting from the great work Pam does. Go Pam! :D
As well as the awesome volunteers and the array of injured wildlife regularly arriving at the Centre, SWWR also has an eclectic mix of resident animals they care for permanently. These are animals that've either been born or bred in captivity elsewhere, or are so tame they can’t be released as they wouldn't be able to fend for themselves.
We meet Tony the corn snake who loves nothing more than to cuddle up to a hot water bottle when he's out on tour at local schools! Tony goes out with the team as they meet children and explain the work of the charity.
There are also the beautiful resident badgers, Luna and Betsy, who live in conditions that best simulate those they would inhabit in the wild - and let's meet best friends Polly the red deer and Emu (the emu :)), who were rescued by the Centre when a petting zoo closed down.
My heart gets ridiculously warm watching Emu follow Polly everywhere she goes - and beautiful Polly stops for a chat and a few photos, before following us and SWWR Community Officer, Laura Durrant, as we walk along the side of the huge area Polly and Emu share with some ducks. Those ducks clearly know where they're best off! :)
There are also six resident birds of prey at Secret World – Tinnun the kestrel, Zazoo and Shadow the barn owls, Mumbles the Bengal eagle owl, Daphne the European eagle owl and Star the tawny owl. It's Star we spend some time getting to know - and that's a real privilege. She is truly beautiful and very chilled in the care of Laura, who says Star's a bit of a favourite. It's easy to see why :).
Again, all the birds of prey living at the Centre have been born or bred in captivity elsewhere, unable to be released into the wild as they are used to human contact and can't hunt for food themselves. When injured wild birds are brought in and are ready to be released, all human contact with them is cut off, to make sure they don't become too tame. There's a special area for animals to stay pre-release to minimise interaction, and that's under further development on-site right now.
After meeting all the residents and dragging ourselves away from Star, we head off to one of our favourite places - Hogwarts. Yep, you've guessed it! Hogwarts is the place where all the hedgehogs are cared for and at the moment, you could say there's a fair few of them - all hibernating. When it's milder, they'll be released back into the wild.
The centre rescued over 100 hedgehogs around Christmas time, helping to feed them up, so they could hibernate in safety.
Our hearts officially melt many times as we go behind the scenes at Secret World, but the overwhelming feeling for us is reassurance... reassurance that there's an awesome team genuinely helping and rehabilitating injured animals and birds, since Pauline Kidner founded the charity in 1992.
Pauline's reputation for caring for wild animals has led to the creation of a wildlife support Centre at the very heart of the community - and it's completely based on public donations and fundraising. They need all the help they can get to carry on their work and improve facilities on-site, so if you're interested in fundraising or volunteering, please do read more about how you can support them.
Whilst Secret World is a closed site, with only the shop currently open to the public (although there are plans to create a larger 'Visitor Centre'), they do run many special events, when you can visit and take part in some brilliant activities and learning workshops.
On Tuesday March 27th there's a children's workshop 'Spring Babies' so they can discover more about how the Centre cares for the youngest animal and bird casualties. On Wednesday 28th, there's a children's 'Nature Detectives' session, exploring the signs and prints animals leave behind - with plenty of games and outdoor activities to keep even the most enthusiastic adventurers entertained!
This Easter, the charity is also hosting two family days on Friday 30th March and Saturday March 31st - a great opportunity to see the resident animals, listen to a series of animal talks and take part in some cool Easter-themed activities. Easter egg hunts and magic potion making sounds good to us!
So... let's not keep Secret World a secret! If you spot an injured animal or bird, give the team a shout - and let's spread the word about this amazing charity, who are dedicated to making a difference to the lives of all kinds of wildlife across our county.
Secret World Wildlife Rescue is here from 8am to 8pm, 365 days a year to rescue sick, injured or orphaned wildlife and animals in distress. To get in touch with the team call 01278 783 250. If you find an animal in need of urgent attention outside these hours, the advice is to contact your nearest vets. The casualty will then be transported to Secret World the following morning for ongoing care.