by Diana Hockley
St. Tiggywinkle’s Wildlife Hospital has headed our bucket list since 2009. That’s when we bought a book called Something in a Cardboard Box at a National Trust shop during a previous visit to the UK. Having decided to visit relatives, as well as steam train and animal venues during our trip in September 2018, we were determined not to miss St. Tiggywinkles.
The Wildlife Hospital, founded in 1983, caters to an enormous variety of animals. Deer, foxes, badgers, squirrels, birds, and of course, hedgehogs come in injured. Around ten thousand animals pass through their doors each year, making it the largest wildlife hospital in the world.
Buckinghamshire is truly a rural area, and as we travelled along the country lanes to St. Tiggywinkles, my excitement grew. I had never seen a hedgehog before. Although we have echidnas here in Australia—there was a big, fat black one in our garden last week—they are not as small and sweet.
The Hospital is quite a large, mostly one-storey complex, with typical shop and coffee facilities at the entrance. We were delighted to see the very Cardboard Box book we purchased in 2009 still being sold, along with some gorgeous soft-toy hedgehogs and other animals.
Just behind the shop is the hedgehog garden, comprising a series of little tunnels and small “cottages” set out on the grass. There was one hedgehog ambling around in the sunlight, and we learned that this active little person is blind. The hedgehog village was set up so that he couldn’t run into anything that would hurt him, and he appeared to be perfectly happy snuffling in and out of the little houses.
Excitement mounted as the keeper arrived to give a talk, and quite a crowd gathered. I was in the front row, as close as I could get to the action. She picked one of the little animals out of a cottage for the demonstration, but of course we weren’t allowed to touch him. I was fortunate enough to get a photo taken next to him, and it was a treat to be near such a precious little animal.
At the back of the complex we saw several deer who were to be released in a few months, and after that we went into the hospital and nursery sections. We were able to look through a large plate-glass windows into the nursery—no photos allowed, unfortunately—and watched an army of caregivers hand feeding baby birds, mostly doves and pigeons. Some were so tiny that they had few feathers; others were more suitably dressed. It was an around-the-clock job, in that no sooner had they started feeding one end of the line than they had to start again.
The other window had a wonderful treat in store for us: baby grey squirrels in hammocks. The babies were in towels which had the ends tied up to rods held up on hooks. Some of these had single babies, others two or three. We stood gazing into their inquisitive, exquisite faces for around half an hour, hoping that someone would come along to feed them, but unfortunately not. Their feeding schedules were printed on a whiteboard on the wall. Eventually, we had to leave as other people wanted to stand and stare as well.
We spent some time admiring the freeloading birds who swooped in and out of the large pond in the grounds, and watching the birds of prey, recovering from injuries, in the huge netting-enclosed areas. Wild red kites perched on top of the netting and peered and jeered at the captives.
All in all, we spent the whole afternoon at St. Tiggywinkles and wish it could have been longer.