4 May 2023


We don’t just rescue lions, tigers and bears. It’s Hedgehog Awareness Week and the perfect time to celebrate the wonderful wild animals on our doorstep.

A small hedgehog is wrapped up in a blanket.

Do you know that hedgehogs are awesome hunters, on the prowl for slugs and snails? No wonder they’re known as the gardener’s best friend!

But, with less than one million of these spiny mammals remaining in the UK, down from 36 million in the 1950s, every single hog counts.

For many years, Born Free has supported hedgehog hospitals and other wildlife rescue centres up and down the UK. Spring is a busy time as they care for injured and orphan hedgehogs and other wild animals. Born Free’s Rescue & Care Coordinator Tarnya Knight is herself a rescuer and each year she ‘overwinters’ hedgehogs – mostly ‘autumn juveniles’ born late in the year and too small to hibernate.

We chat to Tarnya, to find out a little more about Born Free’s small grants programme, supporting wildlife rescue centres across the UK.

How many small grants do we give out?

Over the last eight years we have given 43 grants to wildlife rescue centres, totalling more than £20,000, allowing them to purchase essential items and pay for the care of wild animals.

How has our funding helped?

The funding we have provided has helped in many different ways. Last year a centre in Scotland was able to purchase a new incubator for rearing baby birds, which came in very useful. Our funding allows the purchase of similar items to help with rearing such as heat pads, soft release pens, milk replacers and baby bottles. Funds have also been used for practical purposes like new tyres and windscreen for a wildlife ambulance, to cover veterinary bills and create leaflets about hedgehog awareness, so they have been able to help wildlife in many different ways. We have also funded wildlife first aid training for veterinary professionals.

A young hedgehog wrapped up in a towel, and being fed.

What species do these centres treat?

Wildlife hospitals and rescue centres vary, some just specialise in one species – such as hedgehogs – while others care for all wildlife. Those which take in all species can have anything from bats to frogs, foxes to badgers, mice to falcons. The most commonly treated animal at most centres is probably baby birds. Pigeons make up a high proportion of patients. The main purpose of any rescue is to return the patient to the wild as soon as possible.

Why is rehabilitation important?

Wild animals play a vital role in the UK’s biodiversity and ecosystems. To us at Born Free, every individual animal is important and deserves to be treated if they find themselves ill and injured, and so often these injuries are linked to human activities. While the release of one individual of a species doesn’t necessarily have wide ranging impacts on the population as a whole, it matters to the individual who we have released.

Why do most wild animals need help?

Sadly, thousands of mammals, birds and reptiles are injured or killed every year through vehicle collisions, exposure to poisonous chemicals, entanglement in fencing and fishing line, injury by strimmers, domestic cats and dogs, discarded rubbish, and loss of habitat.

Can we help lower the demand put on these centres?

Being more wildlife friendly in your garden – checking an area first before strimming, trying to go chemical free, disposing of rubbish responsibly. Put netting used for tennis or football goals away after use, as animals can and do become entangled. Check trees or bushes for nests before pruning. If you have an active bird nest in your garden, try to keep you cat away from it as many nestlings and fledglings end up in rehabilitation centres or dying every year as a result of cat-predation.

Your favourite wild animal to work with?

To work with I don’t have a favourite, but my favourite to see in the wild is the red fox.

Apart from donating to Born Free and rescue centres, what can people do to help wildlife local to them?

There are many things you can do from feeding the garden birds, leaving an area of your garden wild, putting a hole in your fence for hedgehogs, putting up bird boxes, creating a hedgehog house, creating a wood pile or wildlife pond, not using pesticides… If you don’t have a garden a local wildlife group will have ideas as to how you can help, or your local wildlife rescue might be in need of volunteers. If you do feed the birds, be sure that you clean the feeder and water bowl frequently!

What is your most unusual case?

I once went out to the rescue of a wallaby and transported it to a wildlife hospital. One of my colleagues, whilst working in a previous job, once took in a fledgling magpie which had a whole potato wedged in its beak. The magpie was fine, but clearly hadn’t had the best of luck foraging since leaving the nest.

Sometimes people bring in birds which they report having seen falling out of the sky. This may be due to a nest fall, or because they have been dropped by a bird of prey. Unfortunately, rehabbers can also find themselves dealing with conflict situations where people want an animal gone from their garden simply because they don’t like it being there.

How can a UK-based wildlife rescue centre apply for funding?

If you are interested in applying for a grant, then please email me at tarnya@bornfree.org.uk

Born Free’s UK Wildlife rescues