Animals in safe hands at Brent Lodge

Cradling a small and helpless hedgehog in her hands, volunteer Marion Smart walks quickly through Brent Lodge's doors and gives the small creature to a colleague for a check-up.

It's 10am and the sight of these spiky balls of fun arriving is a regular feature for staff at the Brent Lodge Bird and Wildlife Trust base in Cow Lane, Sidlesham.

"When the time is right the mother hedgehog lets her babies go off on their own," said Marion Smart, who has been a volunteer at Brent Lodge for the past ten years.

"We mainly deal with hedgehogs this time of year because their body fat is low and they need to be looked after."

After the hedgehog disappeared for its check-up, volunteer Emma Pink, 20, announced to everyone a teal duck had escaped from its cage.

The duck had been badly wounded the night before and needed to be found before it harmed itself any further.

After a thorough search the escape artist was caught hiding in the washing machine.

Full-time senior staff member at Brent Lodge, Kathie Sharman, said: "It's not often that animals try to escape from here.

"Sometimes the hedgehogs squeeze out of their cage bars but they land safely because their prickles protect them.

"I absolutely love it here and it's a wonderful job to have."

Brent Lodge was founded by Dennis Fenter in 1978 and is a registered charity which depends upon donations and voluntary work.

The trust has more than 1,500 members and gains funds by running a charity shop in Selsey.

All surgery and use of drugs is overseen by Richard Edwards of AlphaPet Veterinary Clinic at West Meads in Bognor and Brent Lodge can call on him at any time for further assistance.

The wildlife hospital has two full-time staff and a group of volunteers who work to help injured or lost animals which are found or brought in throughout the year.

The dedicated team rehabilitates these animals in need and releases them back into the wild when they are ready.

Not everything is as easy as giving them a bath and watching them in their cages, however.

Mrs Sharman said: "I remember one time a large swan was brought in and most of its back end was badly injured.

"We think it was attacked by rats and realised there was nothing else we could do to save it.

"We have the power to euthanase animals here and that's what we

had to do with the swan. It was very sad."

Brent Lodge survived some turbulence when the future of the hospital was cast in doubt last summer.

A shortage in funding gave the hospital just three weeks to find the money it needed to continue running.

But the public showed their support and allowed Brent Lodge to carry on caring.

"The response from the public was absolutely fantastic and I certainly wasn't expecting to see that," said 17-year-old George Sawday.

George was recently employed as a full-time carer and left college to join Brent Lodge.

"It's a good experience caring for the animals and something to put on my CV," he added.

A pond full of fish, a pigeon area, a selection of owls, including a privately-owned Snowy Owl, are all located outside the main Brent Lodge building.

At the end of the day last-minute checks are made and security alarms are set.

Then all the staff at Brent Lodge can do is prepare themselves for the day to come and hope no other animals go wandering off.

To adopt a creature, make a donation or find out more about Brent Lodge Bird and Wildlife Trust, log on to www.brentlodge.org