Hedgehog rescue centre near Milton Keynes and Buckingham needs incubator for baby hedgehogs

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A couple are caring for up to 20 sick hedgehogs at a time from their home

A hedgehog rescue centre near Milton Keynes and Buckingham is raising funds to buy a specialist incubator for sick hedgehogs.

Deanshanger Hedgehog Rescue was set up by husband-and-wife team Rachel and Dominic Matthews in August 2021, to provide first aid, care and rehabilitation to the local hedgehog population.

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Both aged 39, the animal-loving couple have degrees in Animal Science and have also completed a course in hedgehog first aid and rehabilitation.

Rachel with one of her 'patients'Rachel with one of her 'patients'
Rachel with one of her 'patients'

Starting off in a shed in their back garden, before long the operation had taken over part of their home, with their dining room being transformed into a 'hedgehog hospital'.

Rachel, a self-employed farm auditor, and Dominic, a senior research technologist, run the rescue centre in their spare time with the help of three volunteers.

Rachel said: "We've loved hedgehogs for years.

"It's just their faces - they're just very cute and they have got a lot of character.

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Dominic with a rescued hedgehogDominic with a rescued hedgehog
Dominic with a rescued hedgehog

"And I think they are just so vulnerable now. As a species they're not, but in the UK they're on the 'vulnerable' list.

"So all the more reason really for us to get involved and help where we can."

Rachel and Dominic decided to start a rescue centre in Deanshanger because it was a long way for local people to travel to the existing centres - Tiggywinkles animal hospital in Haddenham or MK Hedgehog Haven.

"Originally we set up in our shed, that was the plan," said Rachel. "They were all going to be in the shed.

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Deanshanger Hedgehog Rescue can care for up to 20 hedgehogs at a timeDeanshanger Hedgehog Rescue can care for up to 20 hedgehogs at a time
Deanshanger Hedgehog Rescue can care for up to 20 hedgehogs at a time

"We started off, we were only going to have six, that was our maximum, and six soon turned to eight, eight turned to 10, and we were like, OK, we'll have to come up with a Plan B.

"So now the set-up is we've got the actual hedgehog hospital, so any that are sick, that need more hands-on care are in our old dining room - that's now a little hedgehog hospital.

"And the shed is now basically for rehabilitation really, so once they're off medicines and they just want to grow, then they move into the shed."

Thanks to previous fundraising, the centre will be getting a new, larger shed in March, to replace the existing one which is "falling to bits," Rachel says.

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Baby hedgehogs have to be kept warmBaby hedgehogs have to be kept warm
Baby hedgehogs have to be kept warm

Now they have set up a fundraising page to raise £1,000 for a specialist animal intensive care unit (ICU).

Rachel said: "When you get a hedgehog come in, they're usually very cold and very dehydrated.

"Baby hedgehogs can't maintain their own body heat very well at all, especially when they're ill.

"Even on hot days, if someone rings up and says they've found a little hedgehog outside that's poorly, we tell them to put it on heat, like a hot water bottle covered with a towel.

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"So basically, when they come to us the first thing we do is pop them on the heat pad and give them some fluids.

"The ICUs are ideal because you can set them at a temperature and they will maintain that temperature.

"And they'll stay there just until they're well enough to maintain their own body heat.

"The other thing is some of the drugs we have to use on them.

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"A lot of them will come in with parasites and one of the drugs we use will lower body temperature slightly, so if they have to go on that drug we will give them additional heat."

Rachel added: "We're really lucky in the fact that we work with two vets.

"A lot of people think of setting up a hedgehog rescue, and the main thing that you've got to have behind you are good vets

"Because at the end of the day, we aren't vets and never claim to be, so there's obviously limitations to what we can do.

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"So sometimes you have to say, this is something that needs to go to someone more professional.

"What's really lovely is that we've got a relationship now where, if they have hedgehogs come in, they will often give us a call for rehabilitation, so it works both ways."

Once purchased, the bespoke animal ICU will replace the current makeshift one Rachel and Dominic have improvised in their dining room, using a thermostat and a ceramic heat lamp.

"That kind of does the job, but it would be nice to have something a bit more robust, and a bit more professional," said Rachel.

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"It just keeps that environment constant for them - they have enough battles when they come in, without having to worry about trying to keep warm.

"And they do do well in them - there's been hedgehogs that's come in that you think, I don't know if that's going to make it, and they can surprise you.

"Obviously, we can't save everything but they do make a big difference."

Deanshanger Hedgehog Rescue can care for a maximum of 20 hedgehogs at a time and, once they are rehabilitated, the hedgehogs are released back into the wild.

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"We always try and release where they were found," Rachel said. "

Obviously you don't want loads of hedgehogs just accumulated in one area

"The other reason for that is, there will be different parasite volumes and burdens and challenges in different areas, so don't really want to relocate a hedgehog unless you really have to.

"Ideally we send them back to where they came from.

"Most hedgehogs tend to have been found in gardens, when they're out in the day, so we often ask people to invest in a hedgehog house and to support feed as well - particularly over winter, that's really important, because ideally you want the hedgehog to go in and then go straight into hibernation."

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Having funded the initial set-up entirely themselves, the rescue centre now has "a nice trickle of donations coming in", said Rachel.

And she added: "Hopefully, this year we want to register as a proper charity, and we want to get to the stage where we can expand and maybe get a proper little unit somewhere.

"That's kind of the goal."

To support Deanshanger Hedgehog Rescue's fundraising effort for the hedgehog ICU, see here.

Find out more about Deanshanger Hedgehog Rescue here or on Facebook.