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A visit to Secret World Wildlife Rescue

“Oh, the weather outside is frightful But the welcome is so delightful…”

With apologies to Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn, but as Storm Mathis threatened to drown the Somerset Levels and blow me into the mud-brown swollen dykes along the sides of the road (mental note to self, the M5 isn’t so pretty a route but when the weather is as bad as this…) that’s exactly how I felt after stepping out of the rain and into the Pauline Kidner Animal Treatment Centre at Secret World Wildlife Rescue, to find David Plant, Secret World’s exuberant Fundraising Manager, and the aforementioned Pauline Kidner, founder of Secret World and an absolute hero of mine, waiting inside. Which, yes, is a long sentence, but think of it as analogous to an exhalation of breath after an atypically tricky drive.

 

Anyway, some backstory. Last month we posted the news that:

Thanks to our supporters, Protect the Wild has been delighted to be able to donate to a wildlife rescue that is doing fantastic work in the south of England: Secret World Wildlife Rescue.

Based in Somerset, Secret World Wildlife Rescue has rescued on average 5000 animals every year since it was set up in 1992. Staff and volunteers work tirelessly to rehabilitate everything from foxes, badgers and Harvest Mice to birds of prey, Magpies and gulls – no animal is too small or too large or more or less important than any other, and all receive a huge amount of dedicated care from a team of trained animal carers and vet nurses with a strong commitment to providing medication, veterinary care and time for recovery.

I said at the time that I would visit Secret World and come back with some photos and a short blog to show our supporters in more detail where their money was going. As promised, here they are.

 

Bigger and better

I also remarked in that same news post that I’d visited SW in the past.

The last time was in 2019 when I recorded a podcast with Pauline about the impact on her work of what was then new legislation banning the re-release of rehabilitated non-native species like Grey Squirrels: the  Invasive Alien Species (Enforcement and Permitting) Order 2019. I mention this because SW has undergone a huge facilities upgrade in the last four years – so much so, that the last time I came here the Pauline Kidner Animal Treatment Centre hadn’t been built, there was no smart reception area with its gorgeous (and donated) stained glass windows, and there certainly were no touchscreen monitors allowing visitors to see a history of the Rescue and some of the animals they’ve looked after (including in 2007, as I was reminded, the UK’s first ever Yellow-nosed Albatross, which was was discovered in a garden at nearby Brean,  brought to Secret World overnight, and released from the clifftop at Brean Down the following day!).

The upper floor is just as impressive, with offices and a relaxation room (some of the staff spend days here at busy times). Even more impressive is the fact that the local architect that designed the new buildings did so for FREE.

 

David Plant (when I took this photo the weather had improved!)

David and Pauline Kidner in the reception area

An aerial overview of Secret World Wildlife Rescue

Defra take note – this is how we all imagine seeing wild badgers, not being dumped into skips at cull centres…

 

 

A staggering amount of care

I could have timed my visit for later in the spring when the Rescue was packed, but to be honest the last thing the Secret World team needs when they are knee-deep in (often very young) wild animals that need intensive care is for someone to be wandering around behind-the-scenes with a camera. Especially now that interactions have to be managed extremely carefully as Covid (which can impact animals) is rife and a mishandled bird with Avian Flu could mean every bird in the building having to be euthanised. Avian Flu is decimating some wild bird populations, and very sadly a Peregrine brought in one day was rushed straight to the high-tech Isolation Unit where he tested positive for flu and had to be put down under Defra supervision. Hence the visit now, while things are still quiet.

And esoteric Indian Ocean vagrant seabirds aside, things do get very busy indeed. Secret World can see well over 600 Hedgehogs every year, thousands of birds, and scores of fox cubs (there are two tiny cubs being rehabbed right now but we didn’t disturb them). They all need vet care and feeding which is costly, and because of the risk of disease being spread Secret World now has to stock inordinate amounts of masks and disposable plastic aprons (I’ll leave the reader to imagine the eye-rolling that went on as having dedicated her life to wildlife and the environment, Pauline described in frustrated terms having to throw away huge amounts of plastic…).

Having said that, Pauline was just about to carry out one of five daily feeds of a badger cub which had come to them and invited me to watch – from a distance (the closer images below are all taken using a zoom lens and David and I both stayed two metres back). This cub is called Bramble and was found on the side of the 15th fairway of a golf course in Wales one early morning! aShe was picked up by the RSPCA later that day and transported to Secret World the same afternoon.

 

Entry to all areas is controlled by coded locks – and the Isolation Unit is perhaps the most secure area in the building

If you’re in the business of care, you need a lot of this sort of stuff…

…and sadly these days a lot of these too: single-use disposable aprons.

Not everyone gets to work with the animals of course, but they love them just the same!


Pauline and Bramble – one of ‘thousands’ of badgers Pauline has now rehabbed and released back into the wild

 

Outreach and education

A mantra of Secret World is that no matter how much good they do helping wild animals by rehabbing and releasing them (and they do a massive amount of good), what is key to a future for wildlife is education. Inspiring people to think differently about wildlife – which is something Protect the Wild wholeheartedly agrees with. Until we all see the point in saving badger and fox cubs, feral pigeons, gulls, corvids, and mice the persecution will continue.

It’s vital work, and Secret World now has its own outreach Learning Team, regularly hosts local school children, attends and talks at events, and runs wildlife courses and their own charity shops in nearby Burnham-on-Sea, Glastonbury, and Langport. Their hard-working reception handled a mindblowing 20, 612 telephone enquiries in 2022!

Since I last visited there has also been a major lottery-funded restoration of the Bluebell Barn, which is described as a ‘venue for lovers of wildlife’. It was blowing a gale as we hurried past so we didn’t go inside, but what a beautiful place it looks even on a wet Friday morning!

 

Tea and biscuits

Before I left I was privileged to have a chat with Pauline and David in the new ‘snug’, which is replete with a Welsh dresser that I remembered from my last cuppa with Pauline a few years back.

Much of the information above actually came from the conversation that took place there, and it allowed to me also discuss a few areas that Secret World and Protect the Wild might be able to work on together in the future. More importantly, I got the chance to thank them again for the incredible work they and the team do at Secret World – and for the very warm welcome (particularly for animals but us humans as well).

Hopefully, this blog has gone some way to explain why we wanted to support Secret World. That we could is – again – down to our own fantastic supporters. We take your support very, very seriously indeed and thank you for the trust you put in us. Be assured, together we really are helping to protect the wild.

 

  • If you’d like to support Secret World Wildlife Rescue, they are online at secretworld.org/
  • You can also keep up to date on Facebook at facebook.com/secretworldwildlife, on Instagram at secretworldwildliferescue/, and on Twitter @SWWR
  • Need their Animal Rescue services? Call 01278 783250
  • The centre is not normally open to the public and the work with wildlife is done behind closed doors to minimise human interference, but there are opportunities to visit on a number of Open Days. For more information go to secretworld.org/about/visit.