Ever since the beginning of October 2015, I've been mentioning my interest in Coldham Cuddlies and I trying to do something to try to halt the decline of the UK Hedgehog population. With the three Coldham Cuddlies Hedgehog Toys (shown later), I've been attempting to build a fund-raising campaign to try to help those who are much better placed to do so in a "hands-on" capacity. and have chosen two UK Hedgehog Hospitals to support. They are West Midlands Hedgehog Rescue and Tiggywinkles Wildlife Trust. It's the latter that I'm going to tell you about in today's post - as well as maybe a couple more as well.
Starting in 1978, using their back garden as the operations base, Les, Sue and Colin Stocker began what has now become the busiest wildlife hospital in Europe. When Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital started few people had given much thought to the welfare of such creatures as frogs, badgers, wrens, owls, hedgehogs and all the other small animals that give us humans so much pleasure.
|The Introductory Notice Visitors to Tiggywinkles read as they start walking round the Trust's Grounds, with examples of the Patients that are regularly treated at the establishment.|
Once they realised such care was available, the public began to provide patients in ever increasing numbers - to the point that over 200,000 patients of all shapes, species and sizes have now passed through the doors of the Hospital. Together with a friendly local veterinary surgeon (now enlarged to being a team of specialist surgeons and veterinary nurses) the Stockers took every patient in that presented - and treated those who could be saved – free of charge.
|A typical Tiggywinkles Patient List|
That is still the case, with animals given every chance to live when they are initially assessed. Euthanasia is very much the last resort. Those not able to cope in the wild, are carefully housed within the Visitor Centre gardens and grounds which surround the current state of the art Wildlife Hospital – which was opened by HRH Princess Alexandra in November 1991.
|One of the oldest residents in the Badger Sett at Tiggywinkles|
|Stories of Three Tiggywinkles Permanent Residents: Merry and Christmas arrived on the same day (at Christmas time).|
The Hospital now stands in six acres of Church Farm, Haddenham, Buckinghamshire – thanks to a 999 year lease provided by Buckinghamshire County Council – responding to a massive fund-raising effort by the Stockers and friends, as well as sponsorship from British Telecom and BP.
|Like most of the signs at Tiggywinkles, this is housed behind glass: making photography with a small digital camera challenging. Hopefully, Readers can get an idea of the Hospital surroundings.|
The specialist knowledge gleaned in the daily operations of Tiggywinkles is now shared throughout the world by means of publications, books and lectures to veterinary schools – whenever the staff are invited. Latterly, a special City and Guilds course has evolved for young students wishing to specialise in wild life care, with many progressing to fully fledged animal welfare qualifications.
Tiggywinkles staff teams are also called upon to assist at large scale wildlife disasters outside their immediate location in Buckinghamshire - such as major oil spills, where sea birds and other animals are affected. It's educational to read this particular sign board - and an indication of how important the work carried on at this establishment is - not only in the UK, but also in Europe too.
Special pens have been built to separately house badgers and foxes, sheds built to shelter deer patients, a large pond (almost a lake indeed) for bird life (some indeed just visiting) and most recently – in 2011 – a massive set of aviaries was opened to house Red Kites so that the Hospital is able to cope with injured birds, the result of the tremendous success of the Government's re-introduction of the species. The new Red Kite Information and Education Centre is now open, allowing the public to get near to these “masters of the sky”.
|The Badger Sett, with the rear of the Visitor Centre and Museum (L) in the background.|
|The Pond at Tiggywinkles, where patients live, and all avian visitors are made welcome.|
Inevitably as the public learned about the Wild Life Hospital's services, they also came just to visit and learn. Naturally, they cannot see the patients in the Hospital, but there is a first-class Museum – with artefacts and information about Hedgehogs, who have been around since the days of Ancient Egypt - and still continue to fascinate. Hedgehogs have become mascots to battleships, lent their names to military formations in battle, and perform evaluable garden services in controlling slugs and other enemies of the world's gardening public. Their biggest drawback is that being nocturnal and small, it is easy for our busy world to forget they are there.
Recent problems our prickly friends face include loss of habitat. Modern farming practices mean that increasingly in the UK they are having to share it with Badgers – who are not only a protected species in this country, but also are not above enjoying the occasional Hedgehog "snack". Tiggywinkles does not discriminate between these two species, and welcomes patients from both. Indeed, when I visited with daughter Philippa, just before Christmas 2015, we were able to see the badger sett (see the picture above) – but not its residents. Because, like Hedgehogs, they are nocturnal animals. (Recently, as late as last week, moves have started to have Hedgehogs protected - in the same way that the UK's endangered Red Squirrels are. So watch this space!)
The modern Hedgehog is also up against the ever growing need for building land – with modern houses surrounded by fences, which disturb the normal hedgehog routes between home and food. Gardeners in the UK are being urged to cut holes (the size of disc covers) in their boundaries – to save their garden Hedgehogs having to go into roads and streets to make progress, and then losing their fight against the car drivers sharing the same space. The recent flooding experienced throughout the UK will not have helped either – with many Hedgehogs who might have hibernated in garden wood piles and rubbish heaps probably being swept away in the flood waters.
Personally, having been an avid Beatrix Potter reader myself – as well as reader to my daughters of the same stories – I've always had a soft spot for Mrs Tiggywinkle, so it's no surprise perhaps that when I learned – several years ago – about the Tiggywinkle Wildlife Trust, I'd be a likely Trust membership candidate. I was also reared on the stories of Little Grey Rabbit and her friends, particularly Fuzzipeg, written by Alison Uttley. (Samples of these stories can be seen in the Visitors Museum in Haddenham too) and since December 2015, there have been 3 Coldham Cuddlies Handmade Hedgehog Toys looking to be adopted by future visitors to Tiggywinkles. (The Visitors Season begins at Easter each year, with opening hours being Monday-Friday 10.00 am to 4.00 pm).
Coldham Cuddlies is the online Toy making business that I started in 2010 as occupational therapy to ease my arthritic hands, as well as to provide a break from care responsibilities for my late disabled husband. After his death in 2010, the Cuddlies became a full time occupation, and during the 2015 autumn, I became aware of the current dangers to the UK Population as a whole. With three obvious candidates to uses as my Helpers, finding an acceptable way to support Tiggywinkles has become something of an obsession in my life!
This post has gone on long enough, so I'll end it now. The Tiggywinkles Story will continue next week, Until then, here's hoping everyone has a great one.
(Thanks are expressed to Tiggywinkles Wildlife Trust for permission to use these photographs to illustrate this post - and the subsequent follow-ups.)