Wildlife hospital sees ‘wonderful boom’

General manager Robert Knight, right, with animal care managers Darren Ashcroft and Emma Pink
General manager Robert Knight, right, with animal care managers Darren Ashcroft and Emma Pink
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Big changes are taking place at Brent Lodge Wildlife Hospital, which cares for sick, injured and orphaned creatures from across Sussex and Hampshire.

A new feed store has been built and there is a new toilet block for visitors, with disabled access. Plans are also afoot to expand the hospital, which has been based in Cow Lane, Sidlesham, for more than 40 years.

Robert Knight took over as general manager at Brent Lodge Bird and Wildlife Trust three months ago.

He said: “Thanks to a nice legacy and support from friends, we have a new purpose-built feed store. It is rodent free, so we can buy a lot more feed, and different types, for the animals.

“The facilities here were built in the 1980s so they are no longer fit for purpose and two of the buildings are being knocked down.”

A grant from The Body Shop will pay for the removal of the asbestos from one on July 18. Once that building is taken down, it will open up access to about 25ft of land behind and the long-term aim is to use it to double the size of the hospital.

The pond, which Darren built for the waterfowl that need to waterproof themselves before they can be released

The pond, which Darren built for the waterfowl that need to waterproof themselves before they can be released

The second demolition will create room for a long aviary and the charity will hopefully be in a position to apply for planning permission next year. The aim is to give the raptors more room to fly, so the staff are better able to ensure they can survive in the wild before they are released.

The charity also wants to repair its dilapidated aviaries to house the many gulls that are handed in.

Robert explained: “There are a lot of chicks handed in at this time of year. You can literally end up with hundreds but we are obviously not going to say no.”

Much of the charity’s work is funded through its two shops, in Selsey and Havant. It is now looking to open more and already a third is in the pipeline, in the Guildbourne Centre, in Worthing.

Robert has come from a retail background so he has been putting his knowledge into practice in the shops.

“We have seen a wonderful boom in sales recently, helping to create much-needed funds for the charity,” he said.

“However, demand is far outstripping supply. What we now need is a constant supply of furniture to meet the demand.”

House clearances can be organised and the charity can even make money from recycling bags of old rags.

The hospital cares for 3,000-plus patients a year, ranging from tiny baby birds to large mammals, like deer.

“People bring them in to us for all different reasons, maybe because they are orphans or sick,” explained Robert.

“Ducks can be poached and the ducklings will be left without their mum. We also get a lot of pigeons. There are not many place around that deal with rehabilitation.”

Animal care managers Darren Ashcroft and Emma Pink live on site and fund many of the animals themselves.

The couple met at the wildlife hospital, where Darren has lived since he was about 18 and Emma started as a volunteer when she was 12.

Emma is like the den mother, caring for any deer that come in.

She explained: “When we get deer in, they have to be fed through the night, so she will take them into the home to care for them.

“People want to keep them but find they can’t then expect us to work miracles. They can have only one person rearing them and because I am here, it means it tends to fall to me but I don’t mind.

“You get bitten by the bug. You can’t get attached, you can’t take them home and you can’t keep them.

“It is a different aspect of animal care and it is so rewarding. The good far outweighs the bad.

“They are quite cute, so I like it, but it does get tough because you have got to be completely detached, there is no cuddling. There is a lot of imprinting with animals when they are young.

“It is hard. People want to do it themselves but they are wild animals and the wild streak will eventually come out. Not many people want to keep them in captivity.

“We are not a sanctuary but there are some permanent residents, such as owls that have been captive bred. We can use these for education and sponsorship.”

There are also resident geese, as some are completely blind and some have damaged legs and wings, so they would not survive in the wild.

The finches and other domestic birds are funded by Darren and Emma, because these fall outside of the charity’s remit.

There is an outside area for recovery, once the animals leave the hospital. There is also a new pond, which Darren built for the waterfowl that have been in the hospital so long, they need to waterproof themselves again before they can be released.

In the fox block, the animals are kept as separate from the humans as possible. Robert explained: “They are wild animals and we want to keep them wild.”

The charity works with every aspect of the community and holds three open weekends a year, with the next one planned for August 20 and 21.

Visit www.brentlodge.org for more information or call 01243 641672 to make a donation.

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