Hidden inside a cosy cottage in Thatcham, Berkshire is a very special kind of hospital!
Web developer Gill Lucraft started up Hedgehog Bottom, a hedgehog hospital 10 years ago, and she now rescues over 700 of these little fellas every single year.
It all started when Gill found an injured hedgehog in her garden.
She explains, ‘we looked after this little one right the way through the winter and in the spring it came out and we were absolutely delighted! We called him Speedy Gonzales and it all started from there.’
‘6 months later there was a tiny baby one that came out during the day and collapsed on my foot in the heat and we shipped him off to another rescue and then we decided we could probably do it ourselves! That’s pretty much how Hedgehog Bottom started.’
From then, rescue numbers shot up until caring for the hedgehogs started taking over Gill’s life, and her home!
She says, ‘the first year that we started this we took in 3 over the winter, the following year we had 6 and then it went up to about 80 and after that it just went through the roof.’
Gill treats the hedgehogs in her care for everything from mange to horrific strimmer injuries, with the help of volunteers and her local vet. She also hand feeds the baby hedgehogs every 2 hours during hoglet season.
After they have been nursed back to health, the domestic hedgehogs are released back into the wild. But Gill does have a couple of more exotic residents, including an African Pygmy Hedgehog and Desert Hedgehog, neither of which are native to the UK and wouldn’t survive on their own.
With hedgehog population declining, Gill hopes to expand her centre and save as many of these adorable creatures as possible.
She says. ‘They’re not currently on the endangered species list but they are in severe decline.’
‘In the last 20 years we have been killing them by the thousand. The more we can do to help them, the better.’
Despite loving what she does, Gill does have a few words of warning for anyone who is thinking of setting up their very own hedgehog rescue.
She explains, ‘the first thing I would say to them is ‘don’t!’ – it’s this slippery slope where 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 that you’re taking in animals and wasting a hell of a lot of money and resources whilst you learn the ropes.’
Despite the challenges the sanctuary may bring, there’s no doubt that Gill absolutely loves caring for these hedgehogs.
She says, ‘I would say 95% of the people that bring them in are just completely and utterly smitten with them because they didn’t realise just how darn cute they are!’
‘They’re amazing creatures and there’s nothing else like them on the planet.’