SWCC Hedgehog Hospital

Blog: Save our hedgehogs - working in a specialist wildlife hospital

Posted: 27th October, 2023

We're returning home to native wildlife in our final Creatures Unseen blog instalment, by Lucy Hodges from the SWCC Hedgehog Hospital...

Hedgehogs are one of the UK’s most recognisable and well-loved species – I remember from a young age the thrill of being allowed to stay up late to watch them snuffle around the garden, looking for beetles, worms and stray cat biscuits. Any sudden movement or noise would illicit their distinctive defensive curl as they raised their spines and waited, motionless, for the danger to pass.

The fact that we had so many hedgehogs visiting our garden (five adults a night sometimes) meant it was a great shock when I first found out about the plight of these beautiful creatures. Since the start of the 21st century the species has been in continuous decline, with a nationwide reduction of 30-75% of the population. Loss and fragmentation of their woodland and hedgerow habitats, pesticides removing invertebrate prey, and increasing vehicles on our roads are all thought to have contributed to the decline of hedgehogs, culminating in the species being placed on the GB IUCN Red List as ‘Vulnerable’ in 2020 – that is, facing a high risk of extinction in the wild.

Discovering the dramatic losses of our native species highlighted to me the importance of wildlife conservation, and only increased my young ambition to one day work in that field. Fast forward, and I have now been working for over a year for Shepreth Wildlife Conservation Charity in their dedicated Hedgehog Hospital. The hospital runs year-round, treating and rehabilitating hedgehogs suffering from all manner of injures, illnesses and other issues, and since opening has admitted well over 5000 individuals.

Working at the hospital is a varied job and no two days are the same. Each patient presents its own challenges, whether it be a stubborn hog which refuses to uncurl, a hyperactive youngster that won’t stay still, or a fussy eater that ignores all but a particular food. Aside from cleaning out, feeding and medicating, there are vet runs, phone calls and emails, new admittances, parasitology checks, and the continuous cycle of keeping everything clean. Then there is the public-facing side. Each hog needs a release site found, usually a suitable garden. Maintaining the social media is a must, as is running events for education and to raise funds and awareness. It’s a rewarding job, but always on the go. You can never assume you’ve seen everything either. After a year I am still encountering new things, like the alarming swelling effects of balloon syndrome, and just how proud you can feel knowing you saved a life, even if it did mean getting up every two hours through the night to feed orphaned baby hoglets.

It would be wrong to say every case is a success. As anyone who has worked with wildlife casualties knows, no matter how hard you try there are some that can’t be saved. But some of the survival stories are inspirational. One that sticks with me most is a tiny young male, only around 4 weeks old, who arrived to us cold, thin and dehydrated, and suffering from flystrike. While I was removing the parasites he suddenly jerked in my hand in a violent seizure, and then lay limp and still. Convinced he was dead, I placed the little body into a holding box and turned away to compose myself. After a minute I looked into the box – and there he was, walking about and looking interestedly back up at me. The young hog went on to make a full recovery and was released a few weeks later back into the wild.

It isn’t only the hedgehogs that inspire me though. All the people who dedicate their time to helping wildlife: our hard-working volunteers, parasitology testers, vets and vet nurses, outreach workers and educators, home carers and release sites. Our hospital manager who works tirelessly and is always there on the end of the phone, even when she is supposed to be on holiday! Every member of the public who has listened, and let that unused corner of their garden grow, left a gap in the fence for the hedgehogs to pass, checked their bonfires for animal inhabitants, or left out food and water. To each and every one of you: thank you, and keep going. You give me hope. 

- Lucy Hodges, Welfare Assistant, SWCC Hedgehog Hospital.

The SWCC Hedgehog Hospital is funded and operated by the Shepreth Wildlife Conservation Charity, and proudly supported by BIAZA member Shepreth Wildlife Park.


Mathews F, and Harrower C. (2020). IUCN – compliant Red List for Britain’s Terrestrial Mammals. Assessment by the Mammal Society under contract to Natural England, Natural Resources Wales and Scottish Natural Heritage. Natural England, Peterborough ISBN 978-1-78354-485-1

Wembridge, D., Johnson, G., Al-Fulaij, N. and Langton, S., 2022. The State of Britain’s Hedgehogs 2022. British Hedgehog Preservation Society and People’s Trust for Endangered Species: London, UK.

All blogs reflect the views of their author and are not a reflection of BIAZA's position

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