At the end of last month, too late for my March monthly roundup, we had an unusual rescue of a sparrow hawk flying around inside St Mildred’s Church in Tenterden, Kent. Yes I know that not East Sussex, but the church had been ringing round for hours trying to find someone who could help and they were not getting anywhere. As we were quiet that day, we decided to head across and see what we could do. When rescuers Julia Stafford, Brian Downing and myself drove through Tenterden High Street and saw the church, we looked at each other in horror as we saw the size of the church looming over the tops of the other buildings. When we arrived, we also had to wait for a funeral to finish before we could start the rescue.
We knew the rescue was going to be difficult with the bird flying the full length of the church from the Bell Tower along the Nave to the Altar. With long poles, nets, and a ladder in the higher central area, we positioned ourselves to attempt capture at either end. Brian stayed in the middle to stop the bird from stopping there. It was very difficult constantly looking up, trying to hold and move a long pole and net, and gauge from a steep angle whether you were in the right place to catch the bird or not. After some very near misses, Julie judged it just right, caught him mid-flight, and then quickly put the net against the wall to keep him secure. I ran to join Julie as quick as possible to help her bring him down to the ground safely.
We soon had him in our hands and after a brief check over he was clearly fit enough to be released. Outside we released him where he flew off into the trees scaring a wood pigeon into flight.
On the 1st April, we thought we were being called out to an April Fool’s joke when someone rang to say there was a bird trapped inside the play pen of Fort Fun on Eastbourne Seafront. After an appeal on social media for a key holder to help us gain access, rescuers Brian Downing, Holly Davis and myself attended. The bird was right at the top of the play area in a plastic cube. The playpen was netted and formed a maze of corridors and climbing frames and at the top was the plastic cube, which the bird had got inside. Climbing up to the third level, I certainly started to feel my age! Holly being smaller than me was better suited to catch the crow and I provided back up in case it got past her. The crow was soon in our hands. We quickly saw there was a lot of blood, which was coming from a damaged toe. We applied pressure to stem the bleeding before climbing all the way down to the ground back to the ambulances. The crow had to come into care for 24 hours due to the blood loss, but was suitable for release the following day back down on the beach.
We have had a few call this month from people who have been looking after casualties for days because they think the RSPCA, animal charities and vets are closed and therefore nobody there to help. The RSPCA’s national helpline is open, although many of their local centres are closed to the public and casualties are only being admitted via their national call centre. Most local animal charities are continuing their rescue work the best they can, but some are only accepting casualties if they are delivered. Although most veterinary centres are closed for people to enter the buildings, they are still dealing with casualties. Emergency treatment is definitely still being done. So if you cannot get through to your local wildlife rescue, leave a message but if they do not return your call and the casualty is badly injured definitely call your local vet for help.
This month has definitely been duckling month! On 15th April, WRAS were called to a mum and ducklings in Roman Way Uckfield. I jumped in the ambulance with Holly Davis and Ellie Langridge. When we arrived, the mum was walking along a wooden fence trying to find a way through to a pond the other side. Luckily, at a damaged section of fence we were able to wedge open a gap big enough for mum and youngsters to get through as well as build a ramp out of earth so the ducklings could get over the wooden board and continue their journey. However, it quickly became apparent that there were more ducklings but we were rather confused as to where they were. Then we realised they were underground in the drains. Initially we struggled to lift a large drain cover in the middle of the close, despite having drain keys, but with the help of some local residents, the cover was soon removed. Two ducklings kept running out of one of the pipes and then disappearing again. We knew that if we climbed down into the drain, the ducklings would run further away. We needed a narrow net, so bent one of our net heads to fit the gap. With Holly laying on the ground in the middle of close, protected by our ambulance, poised with net and pole to catch the ducklings when they came out. I was able to help Holly with the first one but the second one she managed on her own. This left just one more duckling, which was about 18 inches away from a drain at the side of the road. The poor thing was struggling to get over a concrete lip, but after almost half an hour of trying to coax it out, the duckling finally was reachable and rescued. The three stragglers were taken over to the nearby pond where mum and the other eight ducklings were now swimming around. On release, the ducklings franticly swan across to join their anxious mother. It was really nice to hear the local residents in the houses close by cheering as they were reunited.
Two days later, we then found ourselves being called to mum and ducklings walking around a cul-de-sac in Stone Cross near Eastbourne. She had walked into Eden Close but found herself at a dead end unable to go any further. I attended along with rescuer Ellie Langridge, Brian Downing and Julie Stafford. The first part of the journey was not going to be easy, as we needed to walk them in the opposite direction to where mum wanted to head. With Julie standing by drains to stop any ducklings disappearing, Ellie and Brian slowly and gently encouraged them up and out of the close. Once on Adur Drive it was a left turn to a pathway through Adur Park. Slowly the rescuers guided them across the park and towards the railway line where rescuers had to negotiate a short tunnel. However when mum got to the tunnel she started to race away through the tunnel suddenly realising she was going in the right direction. I spent most of my time in front keeping an eye on traffic and guiding rescuers in the right direction. It was great team work from everyone.
Once on Hadlow Avenue the family was walked down to Larkspur Drive, where rescuers had to be much more careful and keep better control. The hardest part was getting across the junction of Larkspur Drive and Rotherfield Avenue, where traffic had to be held whilst the ducklings crossed.
Soon after, they were crossing the grass towards the stream at the edge of Shinewater Park. Once on the water mum knew what to do and headed off into the reeds for safety.
Sunday 19th April also saw rescuers called out to mum and ducklings in Swanley Close Langney, near Eastbourne. The family were walking around the close but the housing and fencing were stopping them from getting to their pond. This was one of the occasions where it was important to watch and see where they want to go, as there was more than one pond. Most people automatically assumed they wanted to go to the public pond behind Langney Shopping Centre but it quickly became apparent to rescuers that this was not the case, and a second private pond close by was there target. Luckily, a gap in the fence was used to help them get there and they were soon continuing their journey.
As if these rescuers were not enough, Monday 20th April rescuers received a call to say mum and five ducklings were wandering along the busy South Road in Hailsham. I jumped in my ambulance drove there quickly knowing how dangerous a location they were at. They were originally reported as being right up by the KFC and Tesco Express, but by the time I arrived they were all the way up near the recreation ground pedestrian crossing.
A lovely lady in a mobility scooter had been following them trying to keep them safe all the way along South Road, and now she had them in a front garden.
Luckily, they started walking into the back garden of the house away from the road, so I quickly grabbed a net and carrier from the ambulance, amazingly mum suddenly appeared back at the front and the lady with scooter was brilliant at keeping them from going onto the pavement. I was able to guide them back away from the road where I sat with them until my back up arrived.
These rescues can be quite unpredictable, and you do not want to lose mum or she could fly off and abandon her young.
Just as Ellie and Thea pulled up in the ambulance mum came right close to me allowing me an ideal opportunity to net her. Thea and Ellie helped round up the 5 ducklings to get them to safety too.
Looking at the direction she was heading there was only one possible pond she was heading to, and that was Hailsham Common Pond in Station Road so rescuers gave the tired family a lift the final distance, which would have been quite a dangerous journey for them to continue walking them.
At the pond, the cage door was opened and mum and her young were quickly off and onto the water where they quickly disappeared into the vegetation to safety.
Dealing with mum and ducklings is a difficult one. Mums will abandon their young quite easily if they are too stressed, although some mums will do anything to stay with them. You also should not jump to conclusions what their intended destination is. So walking mum and ducklings is usual the best option and the safest to ensure you do not move them to the wrong pond, only for them to up and walk later and get into more trouble. You also need to be careful you do not end up pushing mum in a direction she doesn’t want to head or she will become completely lost. Some locations are just too dangerous to attempt to walk them so capture and relocation is then the next best option.
So, what else other than ducklings have we been dealing with this month!
Our orphan rooms have been getting young blackbirds, thrushes, starlings, goldfinches, tawny owls as well as yet more fox cubs. Several calls about Tawny Owl young have occurred, and on a few occasions we have advised people to leave them alone as these young are known to climb up and down the trunks of trees even at a young age. Some like one near Plumpton was rather poorly so had to come into the rescue centre.
At the end of March, rescuers dealt with a fox that was hit by car in Kings Drive Eastbourne. On 14th April, Ellie and I returned him back to Eastbourne for him to shoot off like a rocket when released.
Kathy, WRAS’s pigeon lady, has had her hands full with more baby pigeons and doves. Some of them have come in very small, almost freshly hatched. Most of these she has at home due to the close one on one care they need round the clock when they are so young.
The most talked about visitor to our centre amongst staff and volunteers has been our Little Egret that was found in Friston Forest after being seen to fall through the trees struggling to fly. He has a small wound to his leg and damaged feathers, but is responding well to treatment and we hope suitable for release soon.
We currently have 132 casualties in care and the number increases every day. With the Coronavirus our staff are working exceptionally hard. We normally have 170 volunteers coming in on a rota system working just 3-4 hours once a week but to help protect staff we have just 15. These volunteers are working much longer hours, and multiple days to keep the contact staff have with people down to a minimum within the Hospital. Rescuers are still going out but having to abide by social distancing as much as possible, but on some rescues this can be very difficult if not impossible when working as a team to capture and secure a casualty. So a big thank you to our staff, volunteers and supporters for all they are doing to support us, especially as many of our usual fundraising streams have dried up as a result.
One way people can help us raise money is joining our virtual run which is taking place over 2nd, 3rd and 4th May. You can run any distance during you permitted 1 hour exercise from home. Entry is just £10 and those taking part and submitting their distance and time will get a medal, certificate and wrist band. More details are on our Virtual Run for WRAS page by clicking here.
On 19th April WRAS was asked if we could help catch a fox cub in Brighton with a plastic tub stuck on his head. I was asked to attend and assess the situation. Once on site I could fully understand how difficult the rescue was going to be. The fox cub was in a garden behind an NHS building in Kemp Town, very close to the Royal Sussex County Hospital. The only way in and out was via a set of concrete steps. The garden had been allowed to over grow and there was a den in the corner. We had no idea if the cub was in the den or underneath all the vegetation in the garden, so I waited for five more rescuers to arrive before we staked the site out waiting for the cubs to appear. The healthy ones and mum started moving around once it was dusk, but there was no sign of the youngster with the plastic tub on his head. After three hours of patiently waiting, it was too dark to continue. Rescuers returned the following morning and noticed the healthy cubs were playing under some vegetation. Rescuer blocked off their access to the den and went into the vegetation hoping the cub with plastic tub might be there too. It was then that they discovered another den which the cubs had vanished into. Rescuers backed off from the garden with just one rescuer hidden on a wooden bench in the centre and the other rescuers waited patiently above in a car park looking down on the garden waiting to see if the cub would appear. At this stage, we were not even sure if the plastic tub was still on the cub’s head.
After about an hour, rescuer Charlotte spotted the cub in the corner of the garden bumping into tree roots, so she quickly rushed down to the garden and as quietly as possible tried to sneak behind the cub to stop it going back down the den. Luckily, the cub’s vision was impaired due to the tub being very dirty. After a bit of a battle with the vegetation Charlotte was able to grab the cub and bring him up to the ambulance for a check over.
The tub was stuck right round the cub’s head, and was squashing one of his ears flat. When the tub was removed, you could smell the skin infection and muck which was all hot and humid having being stuck on the poor creatures head. He was driven to WRAS’s Casualty Centre at Whitesmith where our vet Mike had a look and gave the cub a good clean and placed him on antibiotics. He was treated and monitored by WRAS’s Care Team for several days and once on top of the infection he was taken back to Brighton, where after checking to ensure the family were still present, he was released back to his family.Follow us!