Click on any image to enlarge.
I recently visited Secret World Wildlife Rescue Centre as part of my photographic study into the different forms of conservation in the UK. I had already heard great things about the centre and had even visited it once before (although I was too young to remember) so I was very keen and excited to get to see what goes on in order to care for rescued wildlife.
I arrived on what must have been the mistiest day of the year and yet my spirits were not dampened - in fact I was rearing to get started. I firstly met Animal Carer, Dave Charles who showed me to one of the hospital rooms in the centre. I would be shadowing Dave and his other colleagues, to get a broad idea of the role rescue centres play in conservation.
I was instantly blown away by the diversity of the wildlife being cared for. My admiration for the animal carers grew as I realised not only how much work is involved but also how varied their knowledge is to care for such a range of animals.
These young domestic rabbits unfortunaly lost their mother so the best thing for them is to get lots of human contact and hugs so that they are used to humans when they find a new home. The staff are only too happy to oblige!
It was very clear to me why this centre plays a key role in conservation from the very beginning. The staff devote themselves to the wildlife and work hard to care for any bird, mammal or amphibian that enters the door. Unfortunately this is a rescue centre and the sad truth is that most of the wildlife that is taken here, is usually injured or ill - often so much so that it would not survive in the wild. It was a real wake up call when one such case happened before my eyes. I have had somewhat of an attachment to Jackdaws. I find them fascinating and beautiful. With their piercing pale eyes and a head of feathers that produces a lustrous sheen - it has to be one of the most handsome birds of the crow family.
It was difficult therefore to understand why, what appeared to be a healthy Jackdaw had been brought into the centre. As Animal Carers, Dave and Sara assessed the bird, the problem soon became obvious. In each wing the Jackdaw had a nasty wound - an entry hole for a pellet. As I watched - filling up with anger and sadness - Sara managed to remove a pellet from the birds wing and our concerns were confirmed. This bird had been shot several times making it unable to fly. These animals are hardy creatures, however without the ability to fly, they are not able to protect themselves from predators. To keep a wild bird in captivity would be cruel, only causing the bird stress. This Jackdaw's fate had been confirmed the moment the pellet left the gun and found its target (rather badly I might add!). As the staff prepared the sad task of putting the poor bird to sleep, we shared a few angry words against whomever could be so heartless to first of all shoot this intelligent creature and secondly in failing to finish off their cruel job, just left the bird to die slowly. My admiration for the staff grew yet again and I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to see so many animals sent to the brink of death for no reason. The staff are of course trained in the administration of the euthanasia drug and it is only used as a last resort - when it is the kindest thing to do.
However, it's not all doom and gloom and you know what they say: where one life ends, another begins. Conservation is full of ups and downs and it is a constant battle to protect our wildlife against crime and extinction. I was treated to a new life spectacle in the form of three orphaned fox cubs having their morning feed. The cubs spend most of their time sleeping in a warm incubator before coming out in the morning and afternoon for toileting and feeding. The foxes are born blind and their eyes will not open until they are two or three weeks old. These cubs are unfortunately often mistaken for kittens or puppies and sadly they are sometimes knowingly sold as such for profit.
The foxes aren't the only cubs I saw that day - I had the huge pleasure of meeting Hovis, the badger cub. Hovis is so called because the person who found the cub described it as being the same size as a small Hovis! I was fascinated to talk to Pauline Kidner who was looking after this young cub. Pauline, together with her husband, founded Secret World Wildlife Rescue Centre after being dairy farmers. I was intrigued therefore to talk to Pauline about the recent Badger culling since she has had experience with loving both wildlife on either side of the fence. I was not surprised to find that she was against the cull and believed that if she thought it would help solve the problem with Bovine TB in any way, then she would have backed it. After talking to her and watching the interview that she has gave Channel 4 News after Secret World commissioned a post-mortem of some of the badgers killed in the cull, I was left in no doubt that the cull had been inhumane, cruel and a huge waste of lives and money. The interview with Channel 4 can be seen here.
It wasn't just the cubs I saw being fed - I also had the absolute pleasure of meeting some of the resident foxes that Secret World have on site. I shadowed Dave Charles as he fed these magnificent creatures and I was surprised to find yet another animal that gets such a bad press as being a timid and gentle creature. I am a strong believer that wildlife deserves our utmost respect. They are brighter than they get credit for and if they receive the respect they deserve, they will reward you with their own respect and trust. It was clear that these foxes trusted Dave completely, but were a little more timid with me. They soon relaxed with my presence and were happy to run around me and even gently take a chick from my hand. Foxes are another creature I have a huge fascination for so it was an imense pleasure to be in such close proximity to them.
I would like to thank all the staff at Secret World Wildlife Rescue Centre for being so accommodating and allowing me to not only photograph throughout the day but to learn so much more about another huge factor in conservation. I have the utmost respect for the work that is carried out here and urge anyone to go and visit the centre on their special open days and to make a donation towards
such a great cause.