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How one Suffolk hospital based in Ousden helps nurse poorly hedgehogs back to health



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Sharing a bathroom with a bald lodger called Douglas has meant a chilly winter for Sue Stubley.

Even on the coldest days the heating had to be turned off... to avoid waking Douglas, who was hibernating in a box on the floor, wrapped in a towel.

For a hedgehog who had lost his prickles due to a catastrophic case of ringworm it was the perfect quiet place.

This hedgehog the hospital is being cared for has lost its prickles. Picture by Mark Westley
This hedgehog the hospital is being cared for has lost its prickles. Picture by Mark Westley

And that meant hedgehog hospital founder Sue – so dedicated she will stay up all night feeding babies – didn’t think twice before sacrificing her own comfort.

Douglas is now waking up but his lack of spines, which will hopefully grow back, means he still needs special care.

Last year more than 100 patients were being looked after by Sue and her volunteers at Suffolk Hedgehog Hospital. At one time they were so snowed under they had to close to new admissions.

Sue Stubley with one of the hedgehogs. Picture by Mark Westley
Sue Stubley with one of the hedgehogs. Picture by Mark Westley

With the hospital building crammed to overflowing, poorly hogs in their specially adapted plastic storage boxes rapidly filled her house as well.

“They were on the cooker, on every bit of the worktop, all around the lounge and in my bedroom,” said Sue.

Things have quietened down now with only about 40 currently being cared for – fewer than usual at this time of year.

But tiny youngsters were being brought to them in early February meaning they had probably been born in late December – they normally arrive from April onwards.

The hospital looked after more than 100 hedgehogs last year. Picture by Mark Westley
The hospital looked after more than 100 hedgehogs last year. Picture by Mark Westley

Sue has been up since ‘something past five’ and by mid-morning has still not had time for breakfast.

For her, the hedgehogs are a 24/7 commitment. Once the volunteers have gone home she is their sole carer which means sleepless nights are not uncommon.

“Last summer there were many nights when I didn’t go to bed, and I looked like a zombie and was probably very snappy to be around.

“Poorly babies need two-hourly feeds. If you have eight or nine as soon as you’re done it’s time to start again. At one stage they were all around my bed.”

Adult hogs are given dog and cat food. But babies have to be syringe fed with lactose-free puppy and kitten milk.

Babies have to be syringe fed with lactose-free puppy and kitten milk. Picture by Mark Westley
Babies have to be syringe fed with lactose-free puppy and kitten milk. Picture by Mark Westley

Before each feed they must be encouraged to empty their bladders and bowels by gently massaging their bellies to mimic the effect of their mother licking them.

“I do it with my ring finger because it’s gentler, and use cream because hedgehogs’ skin is paper thin.

“I’m not very patient with people, but I have endless patience with animals,” Sue said.

What began 15 years ago caring for a few babies – known as hoglets – has mushroomed into a charity that has completely taken over her life.

The hospital is currently looking after 40 hedgehogs. Picture by Mark Westley
The hospital is currently looking after 40 hedgehogs. Picture by Mark Westley

Trips out are rare. Holidays rarer still. “I hardly ever leave the house. I don’t get a day off,” she said, before adding, with a slightly faraway look, “I really need to get some balance.

“But I did manage a few days staying with a friend earlier this year and that was amazing.”

She will be out this evening but only because she is giving a talk to a nearby WI group. Chances to publicise the charity are not to be missed.

Her dream is to buy land to expand the hospital, give sanctuary to wildlife, and provide a place where children, adults, and people with health problems can get closer to nature.

“I’m prepared to sell my house to make it happen,” said Sue, whose home, and the hospital’s current base, is a red-brick cottage in the Suffolk village of Ousden.

Some of the Suffolk Hedgehog Hospital volunteers. Picture by Mark Westley
Some of the Suffolk Hedgehog Hospital volunteers. Picture by Mark Westley

The former professional eventing rider grew up in Yorkshire surrounded by animals.

“My grandad was a farmer and he was massively into wildlife. From being tiny I had every animal under the sun. I used to help rear the orphan lambs,” she said.

She has a long history of back problems and has had numerous surgeries. When a spinal injury ended her riding career she worked as a TV presenter covering equestrian events.

And it was while suffering sleepless nights due to back pain that the hedgehog hospital was born.

“I saw an advert asking for help with hedgehogs. I thought, I might as well do something useful when I’m not sleeping.

“I began with a tiny little hospital in the garden. We grew out of that in no time, built another one, and grew out of that. Then my lovely neighbours gave me a piece of their land to build a third one and now we need to expand again.”

Hedgehogs, once common but now critically endangered in the UK, account for most admissions but people also take other creatures in need of help.

“Somewhere down the line we became a general wildlife sanctuary,” said Sue. “We’ve had leverets, rabbits, deer and birds, including a tawny owl, kestrel, blackbirds and sparrows.”

The charity’s admin is managed by Sharon Crouch, a former dental practice manager who is one of the most regular volunteers.

Suffolk Hedgehog Hospital,Volunteer Sharon Crouch (left) and Sue Stubley. Picture by Mark Westley
Suffolk Hedgehog Hospital,Volunteer Sharon Crouch (left) and Sue Stubley. Picture by Mark Westley

“I’ve been here four years, since I answered a social media post,” said Sharon, who lives in Mildenhall.

Every creature that comes in is named, and their admission and condition recorded in a book.

“They get a name and number so we can individualise them,” said Sharon, who started volunteering on Saturday mornings but whose commitment has grown since she was furloughed then made redundant during the pandemic.

In the hospital, volunteers Karolina Kania and Flo Lewis are treating patient Lucy with spray to combat ringworm that had caused her to lose a lot of her spines.

Lucy has been with them since last October when she was found wobbly, dehydrated and underweight in Bury.

She was out in the daytime which is normally a red flag sign that something is badly wrong.

“If people see a hedgehog out in the day, place it in a box and call a rescue as soon as possible, as many are coming in too late to save them,” said Sharon.

Karolina, a vet nurse at an equine hospital in Gloucester, did a placement at the hedgehog hospital as part of her training, and is now back doing more volunteering before returning to university to continue her studies.

Flo, from Glemsford, volunteers every Tuesday, and has also done voluntary dog training for medical detection dogs.

The hedgehogs brought to the hospital are victims of a wide range of injuries, illnesses and parasites.

They were prey to ‘every kind of worm under the sun including roundworms, tapeworms, ringworm and lungworm’, said Sue.

As well as road accidents, strimming injuries are common. Two long-term residents, Peanut and Angel, were both injured by strimmers – Peanut so badly he lost part of his nose, and can no longer curl up.

Angel, so called because she was found in a churchyard, is now so chilled around people she will happily nestle up for a cuddle.

“You would not believe how sick this hedgehog was when she came in,” said Sue. “She had been strimmed, bitten by another animal, and had every worm you could think of.”

Suffolk Hedgehog Hospital is currently looking after around 40 hedgehogs. Picture by Mark Westley
Suffolk Hedgehog Hospital is currently looking after around 40 hedgehogs. Picture by Mark Westley

Adult hedgehogs should weigh between 500g and 1kg. Being underweight, especially as winter approaches, is life-threatening and is another reason they finish up in the charity’s care.

Running the hospital costs well over £20,000 a year. Every month around £1,000 is spent on medication, and about £500 on vet treatment.

They are desperate for donations and more volunteers. “We always want good volunteers – they can come in any time, we can always find them something to do,” said Sue. “And we also need people to fund-raise for us.”

Meanwhile, she is dreaming big and looking for a piece of land – several acres if possible – within a 10 mile radius of Ousden as a haven for wildlife and people.

“I want to create a quiet, idyllic wildlife area for nocturnal species with log cabins where people with terminal illnesses or spinal injuries can come and enjoy nature,” she said.

“It would include a bigger hospital, and a safe release site for hedgehogs and other endangered species.

“I also want to get children – and adults – involved in conservation education.”

A possible way to raise money is asking people to commit £1 or £2 a month to the charity. Donors could also choose it on the easyfundraising website. For more information, or to donate, go to suffolkhedgehoghospital.com, or email suffolkhedgehoghospital@gmail.com for details.