East Sussex Wildlife Rescue & Ambulance Service (WRAS).

East Sussex Wildlife Rescue & Ambulance Service (WRAS) set to open new hospital

It’s been a remarkably busy time for East Sussex Wildlife Rescue & Ambulance Service (WRAS). 2023 saw several months setting new record-breaking figures, as they handled over 5965 casualties, which is 904 more than in the previous year. Last June marked a significant milestone as the charity dealt with over 1000 casualties in a single month for the first time in its history.

Trevor Week MBE, the charity’s founder and Chief Operating Officer, says it’s difficult to be certain about how much human activity has impacted the figures, but it’s likely to be as high as 90%. “This can include the victims of cats and dogs, road casualties, disturbance to nests, dens, access to feeding grounds, collisions with windows or trapped in buildings and basements.” Increasingly, animals are being injured by fences, entangled in netting, electric barriers or rope swings, along with illness and disease caused by inappropriate feeding, persecution, poisoning and more.

The surge in casualties is a result of various factors, including the closure or reduction of services by certain groups, individuals, or charities, the growing conflict between humans and wildlife due to increased countryside exploration post-COVID, heightened traffic on local roads and an increase in people willing to aid injured wildlife. The most common mammal being rescue is the hedgehog mainly coming in from Eastbourne, Polegate, Hailsham, Lewes and Seaford, while the most common bird was feral pigeons.

The charity covers a large area of East Sussex, working with 11 different veterinary practices and relying upon volunteers to operate its ambulances. These have been involved in numerous rescues; including helping to deal with a seal trapped in a nuclear power station, an albino deer with its antlers caught in a rope swing, a badger stuck in a disused swimming pool, a fox trapped in a drain, a bird caught up on a chimney, birds flying round inside a house, run over hedgehogs and much more. WRAS also operates several sites at Burgess Hill, Uckfield, Lewes, Eastbourne and Lower Dicker to help with the outside rehabilitation of treated casualties.

Weeks praises his dedicated team for their efforts in helping the casualties and alleviating their suffering. As injured wildlife often finds veterinary centres stressful, WRAS decided it needed to help improve the situation by setting up its own hospital. Built in 2010, their Casualty Care Centre is now able to accommodate 300 casualties. Facilities include a treatment room, three hospital rooms, an indoor area containing four pens and aviaries, a prep room, volunteer rest area, orphan rearing area, education room, store and an acclimatising room.

Trevor Weeks was recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List 2012 for his wildlife work. In addition, WRAS has won numerous commendations and awards for their work. He says a concerning trend amongst the injuries they’re dealing with involve catapults being used. “They can cause more damage than an air gun and inflict significant damage and suffering to wildlife. This has especially been the case around the Cuckoo Trail between Polegate and Hailsham and north of Hailsham and Hellingly. With road casualties we are finding less are surviving and their injuries are more significant and life threatening than they used to be, which is thought to be due to the change in the designs of vehicles on our roads.” 

While there’s been a substantial rise in casualties, the organisation faced a decrease in income last year, resulting in a financial loss. This is mostly due to the ongoing cost-of-living crisis with the charity anticipating low-income levels in 2024, necessitating the use of reserves to sustain current services. Despite being a modest charity, East Sussex WRAS now incurs annual running costs of approximately £550,000. 

East Sussex WRAS has been setting funds aside for a new hospital for several years. However, they now face a dilemma where they must dip into some reserves to sustain levels without overburdening their staff or cut back on services. “We have reached the limit of what we can currently do on our existing site and have very little outdoor space available for pens and rehabilitation at our current hospital. This means we are currently unable to rear and rehabilitate baby gulls and waterfowl. We also want to establish some new facilities for rehabilitating deer and seals.” There’s also plans to expand their capacity to deal with swans and geese, in response to the increased threat from Avian Influenza they also need to increase their isolation facilities to help protect casualties already in care. There’s also a need for help to maintain the charity’s crucial services, including professional rehabilitation and treatment at its Casualty Centre, rescue operations, ambulance responses, and nighttime emergency services.

Trevor expressed gratitude to supporters and donors for their contributions, highlighting the limited funding sources available to wildlife rescues compared to conservation and other animal welfare charities. In 2023, WRAS handled a diverse range of casualties and situations, including successfully treating and releasing an oiled guillemot, rehabilitating a fox with severe facial injuries in Hove, and rescuing and releasing two large stags entangled in electric rope in a major operation near Uckfield.

There’s plenty of ways that people can support WRAS, whether that be financial or in-person. “Setting up a Direct Debit would be amazing! However, we need people to organise coffee mornings, invite me to give talks at community groups or other fundraising activities.” They also need physical help from volunteers with fundraising collections, working at their charity shop in Eastbourne, helping with feeding and cleaning of the animals as well as undertaking rescue shifts or working in the centre’s reception. They’ve also just launched their Our Pen Friends scheme, where you can donate £3 a month and choose which pens you would like to support (from Hedgehogs and Badgers to Foxes and Birds of Prey). There’s also a Special Pen Friend scheme, which helps support the many other animals they care for. 

To find out more about the work of East Sussex Wildlife Rescue & Ambulance Service, or how you can contribute, head to: wildlifeambulance.org

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