"There is absolutely no questioning Joan’s magic touch with her prickly patients, or her love for animals."
The British hedgehog. Although arguably Britain’s favourite mammal, our populations are no longer thriving as much as they once were. It’s thought that only less than a million remain in the wild. A few months ago, Channel 5 aired a programme ‘Saving Britain’s Hedgehogs’ highlighting the challenges both hedgehogs and the people dedicated to saving them face on a daily basis.
West Midlands Hedgehog Rescue WMHR is part of the continuous battle of saving our native hogs and has been for 18 years. After seeing WMHR on the show, I decided to reach out and see if I could learn more about what it takes to run such a highly demanding rescue centre.
The rescue is run solely by a wonderful lady called Joan Lockley, who I had the upmost pleasure of meeting at her home, also known as the ‘hosprickle’ for sick and injured hedgehogs across the West Midlands. On the doorstep lay a small animal carrier labelled “Please put hedgehog in this box and make sure the lid is fastened – I won’t be many minutes”. This was a clear indicator that I was the right place. Throughout her 18 years dedicated to saving the species she loves so much, she has rescued over 8000 hedgehogs, and unfortunately there seems to be no sign of that number slowing in growth. Nearly every day Joan receives a call about a new hedgehog in need of her help.
I wanted to find out more about why our prickly mammal is on such a rapid decline, and how Joan is fighting to keep their existence within our natural world. After a very warm welcome into her home, I was straight away introduced to her little friend, Freddy. Freddy is the only permanent resident at the rescue, as he would not survive in the wild without Joan’s care. This being said he was very comfortable with having cuddles and his photo taken a perfect poser.
As we began chatting, Joan opened a card that was addressed to Mr and Mrs Freddy, wishing them both ‘many happy times snuffling around in the garden’. Yepp, you heard it right…. charming little Freddy has found himself a wife! Mrs Freddy is another lucky hog that got to Joan before it was too late. Although, as she isn’t a permanent resident at the rescue, she doesn’t tend to stick around …..this became a bit of a running joke throughout my visit….
After much joking and laughter, I had to ask, “why hedgehogs?” to which she surprised me with “I don’t know. It all began 18 years ago when Joan came across an injured hedgehog in her garden. Knowing very little about hedgehogs at the time, she took it straight to vets to get it the care that it needed, and with that West Midlands Hedgehog Rescue was born. Since then Joan has built quite the report as a hedgehog rescuer, with fellow wildlife loving members of the public, the RSPCA, countless vets and even the house of lords from whom she received an ‘Animal Actions’ award! She is so highly regarded for her work that her rescue now also sits as an umbrella care centre within the RSPCA. This means that if any of the RSPCA centres all over the country and Channel Islands receive any calls regarding a hedgehog in need, it is diverted straight to Joan for her attention to ensure they get the specialist care they require.
Now we all know how much of threat humans are to wildlife, but I was intrigued to find out what the most common ailments are that Joan faces when it comes to rescuing the hogs. “Wounds, broken limbs, dehydration, lungworm picked up from the eggs found in slugs and snails, and fly strike” were at the top of her list. “You see, hedgehogs are nocturnal, and as there are no flies around at night, they are not constructed to deter against them – they don’t have a tail to bat them away like other animals can. So, when they are out in the daylight, they attract flies which lay their eggs on them. These then hatch into maggots, and whether there is a wound or not the maggots will eat the flesh.” She then proceeded to tell us of a horrific case she had only a few days prior, of a hog’s leg infested with maggots, who was unfortunately beyond help and had to be euthanized.
Of course, this then raised the question, “why on earth are they being seen out in the day if they shouldn’t be?”. It turns out a hedgehog has to be really sick or injured to be seen out in the day, or they may be forced out environmental factors such as drought. “However, there are minority exceptions” Joan went on. “A female that is about to give birth can be seen out in the day collecting materials to make a nest. For two to three days after a female gives birth, she stays with her babies in the nest, to the point that she becomes so hungry it may drive her out to forage in the day.” Unfortunately, some people take this scenario as the most likely case, which it isn’t, so if you do see a hedgehog out and about during the day, don’t ignore it as its very likely that it is in need if your help. “A healthy hedgehog out in the day will look busy, as though it is out foraging or collecting material” Joan outlined. However, if in doubt the best thing to do is to contact Joan via phone call. I will leave all contact details at the bottom of the page.
It seemed only right at this point to ask what the first port of call is should you find a hedgehog in need of help. The answer was very simple. “The first thing to do is find a high sided box or small anima carrier and place a hot water bottle inside. Then add in some bedding materials, such as towels, blankets or even old clothes, before carefully placing the hedgehog inside. Then get straight on the phone and call me.” Regardless of where you are within the West Midlands, if you are unable to get to the rescue, Joan will contact her hedgehog collection volunteers based in your area, that will take the hedgehog to her.
Now i personally have never seen a hedgehog out in the day but swerving out of the way of one in the middle of a road at night is another story. On this occasion I picked the hedgehog up out of the road and rereleased it a nearby green area. Despite obviously saving it from a very flat fate, I always worried about possibly doing more harm than good; for instance, putting it in an unfamiliar territory or moving it away from a possible nest. However, Joan assured me that moving the hedgehog to a nearby safer location was absolutely fine, as they cover two square miles during their nightly rambling and have such an acute sense of smell that they always find their way to where they need to go.
For Joan the main aim is to rehabilitate the hedgehogs in her care back to a point of self-efficiency to get them released back out into their natural habitat as soon as possible. I questioned whether she ever gets attached to the hogs in her care and sees a change in their behaviour as a result. During her 18 years of caring for the hedgehogs she has only ever had two stay with her as permanent residents. “You mustn’t sit there stroking them as you want them to fear humans” she explained. “They do get used to you a little bit, but you must do what you can to avoid them becoming content around humans”. This was great to hear, because for rerelease programmes to stand a fighting chance of working, the animals must stay as wild as possible. Once fit and well, they are released into areas known as safe release sites, that have been well scoped out by Joan to ensure there are no badgers or ponds nearby that could put the hogs at risk. It isn’t uncommon for Joan to be faced with a hedgehog in need of limb amputation, which essentially makes them disabled. These individuals, along with those that may have impaired vision, are released into walled gardens where they can live a safe, full happy life, and also stand a great chance of successfully breeding.
After our long chat I was invited into Joan’s ‘hosprickle’, inside which were some truly adorable patients. There is absolutely no questioning Joan’s magic touch with her prickly patients, or her love for animals.
You can keep up to date with Joan over on Facebook or check out her website here. Oh and one last thing…..Joan is looking for a helping hand! If you live in the Birmingham area and are able to help with the collection and delivery of hedgehogs in need of help please contact the rescue via telephone or email, both of which I will leave below. To conclude this post, I would like to say another huge thank you to Joan for her overwhelming dedication to saving Britain’s hedgehogs, as well as her time, hospitality and all the laughter! I’ve no doubt it will not be the last time I pay a visit!
P.S If you would like to support Joan in her mission to save Britains hedgehogs, you can do so by donating;
Tinned Cat Food (meat based in jelly, no fish or gravy)
Clean paper pet bedding & puppy training pads
Single Use Sterile Needles
Anti-Bacterial Hand Gel
You can also find a link to her Amazon wish list here
WMHR Contact Details
Telephone: 07837 409533