What was the first animal you rescued and how did it come about?
It was a hedgehog! Annette at the time was working for the campaign group Animal Aid, and because of the name, many people thought they were a rescue centre, so would bring injured wildlife in to the office. In the mid 1980’s, wildlife rescue centres were very few and far between, and as there was no where else for them to go, Annette started to take these injured and orphaned animals home with her, initially caring for them in the back bedroom of our home in Tonbridge. The hedgehog (who was named Prickly Hedge) had been rescued from a bonfire, and although badly injured, did go on to make a full recovery.
Why did you start Folly Wildlife Rescue?
We’d moved to Tunbridge Wells in the early 1990’s, where we continued the work where we’d left off, but we soon realised that with nowhere else for these casualties to go, we needed to become a bit more organised. But as we did so, the costs began to grow, and soon we could no longer afford to fund it out of our own pockets; funds were urgently needed to cover the growing food, equipment and veterinary bills, and the only way we could do this was to become a bona fide rescue organisation (going a step further in 2002 when we became a charity). We also needed a name – and eventually opted for Folly Wildlife Rescue – named after Folly cottage, the house we now lived in.
The operation, such as it was then, consisted of a converted potting shed, a double garage, and half a dozen aviaries, but as the years rolled by, these were gradually added too, until the whole site was covered in pens, aviaries, arks and little sheds; by 2003, we were admitting in excess of 2500 animals a year, but I have to say, that thanks to our volunteers, it was very professionally run.
How have things changed since then?
Massively! By 2004, things were starting to creak at the seams; our intake was rising year on year, we had no proper electricity supply or drainage, and on a daily basis, we sometimes had ten cars parked outside the house. Additionally, we were also ‘living over the shop’ so were on call 24hours a day, 7-days a week, 52-weeks of the year, and the strain of it was beginning to show.
We realised we were in a ‘sink or swim’ situation, and that something needed to be done – and quick!
A plan was therefore hatched to raise funds so that the charity could have its own wildlife hospital, on its own site. It wasn’t going to be easy (a massive understatement!) but we really had no choice.
To cut a long story short, the project was a huge success, and attracted tremendous support. Within four years, we’d raised enough money to buy the land, and after obtaining planning permission in 2010, were ready to go. Work started the following year, and the new Broadwater Forest Wildlife Hospital opened its doors to its first patient – yes, you guessed it, a hedgehog – on April 9th 2012, and 6 years on, we’re now regularly admitting in excess of 3500 casualties a year (including well over 500 hedgehogs!).
Do you have a favourite rescue story or one that you are particularly proud of?
There are so many it’s very difficult to choose, but the following example does prove that rescued animals can go on to lead normal and fulfilling lives. In 2008, a herring gull chick was admitted that had fallen from a nest, and was just a few days old – this isn’t unusual by any means, but this particular gull was different in that he was very tolerant of his human carers and even seemed to enjoy their company – not typical gull behaviour at all (and as with all young wild animals in our care, we go to great lengths to ensure they don’t become tame, or to give the condition its correct name, imprinted).
Eggbert, as he became to be known, was eventually released, but incredibly, has continued to return every year since. Months will go by and there’ll be no sign of him, and then suddenly he’s here, loudly knocking on one of the windows or the back door for food – last year too, for the first time, he brought his mate with him and two youngsters (who didn’t come down for food!), which if you ask me is truly amazing!
What advice would you give to anyone who finds an orphaned or injured animal?
The first thing we advise is to seek help from a rescue centre, and never be tempted to ‘have a go’ yourself – as it will usually end in in tears. Do an online search for your area, and if you find somewhere, give them a call to see if they can help, as well as advise on the best way to transport the casualty. Another piece of advice is not to try and give it a drink (especially if it’s a bird), as the water is likely to go down the wrong way, with I’m afraid, often fatal results.
What are your plans for the sanctuary over the next five years?
Now that all the main buildings and infrastructure (hospital, veterinary unit, x-ray unit, nursery, badger, bird and hedgehog units) are in place, we’re looking as a matter of urgency, to improve our staffing levels (we only have three full-time staff at present), as well as having better holding facilities for deer, and eventually, a couple of wildlife ambulances to carry out rescues.
What keeps you awake at night?
Not having enough money! Raising funds to run an operation like Folly is incredibly difficult, as of course we receive no local or central government assistance and must find every penny ourselves – no easy thing when so many bigger organisations have full-time fundraisers and massive advertising budgets – but we get by!
Do you have a favourite animal and if so what is it and why?
Yes, but sadly it’s one we don’t see so much of these days – the moorhen. Lots of them are run over by cars and around here they definitely seem to be in decline. The babies especially are wonderfully endearing, and in addition, other young moorhens in the family group will apparently assist their parents in caring for their younger siblings – very unusual behaviour indeed!
If you’ve been inspired by the Amazing work that Dave and Annette do at Folly Wildlife Rescue, click this link and make a donation to their wildlife ambulance appeal.