How to help wildlife

Badger crossing sign, Scotland

While everyone knows to dial 999 to summon the heroes that help human casualties - who do you call in a wildlife emergency?

As a nation of wildlife lovers, many of us care as much about our furred and feathered friends as our fellow man.

Animals hurt on our roads, stranded by extreme weather, injured, abandoned or in danger tug at our heart strings and inspire action.

But unlike the fire, ambulance and police services there is no government support for the rescue of wild animals so the challenge falls to charities.

Abandoned or just alone?

Seal pup on a beach - Radleyfreak on Flickr

If you're worried an animal has been abandoned follow these steps:

  • If it's not in immediate danger of injury, monitor from a safe distance to see if its parent returns or it finds safety
  • If this isn't possible, leave the animal and check back after 24 hours
  • If the animal still looks like it's in trouble, contact an expert to find out if you should try to reunite the baby with its parents or take it for rehabilitation

The best known of these are the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) in England and Wales, the USPCA in Northern Ireland and the Scottish SPCA. Although more frequently associated with domestic pets, these charities all offer helpline and rescue services for our wildlife too.

"Wildlife make up the majority of calls we receive each year. We also have four wildlife centres dotted around the UK and we take in over 16,000 wild animals each year," says Nicola White, scientific officer for wildlife at the RSPCA.

She says the charity receive a call every 31 seconds and concerned members of the public can also quickly contact experts via their website.

The number one enquiry is how to help an injured animal.

"If it's a fox or a badger we do tell people: 'please don't help it yourself'. If you were to try and catch [one] you could end up with a nasty bite so please do give us a call," says Mrs White.

If you are able to move the injured animal, experts advise that you take it to your local vet as soon as possible.

Leveret (baby hare) in rehabilitation - Abi Beeby/RSPCA A baby hare, or leveret, being rehabilitated after it was mistakenly 'rescued'

Time is of the essence with some injuries and charities have limited staff on the ground that can respond to emergencies.

Be aware though that animals have a natural reaction to flee so consider your safety and theirs - particularly near busy roads - before approaching.

Mother knows best

The second most common concern of wildlife lovers is a bit trickier to counsel. Lonely seal pups, fledgling birds and fox cubs crying for their mothers make many people anxious.

But in the wild, mothers can leave their young for extended periods while they find food and disturbing a baby with good intentions can actually cause more harm than good.

While a naked, blind chick is clearly vulnerable, a feathered fledgling near a nest may just be finding its way. And approaching a seal pup, fawn or fox cub may frighten its mother away or cause it to be rejected.

Helplines

RSPCA (England and Wales)

0300 1234 999

USPCA (Northern Ireland)

028 3025 1000

Scottish SPCA

03000 999 999

Tiggywinkles

01844 292292

British Divers Marine Life Rescue

01825 765546

"Nine out of ten times, our message is: please do leave it alone, don't interfere," says Mrs White, "because when it comes down to it, mum can look after it a lot better than we can."

The RSPCA has four wildlife centres in Norfolk, East Sussex, Cheshire and Somerset and many of the admissions are young animals that have been separated from their parents.

Outside of these wildlife-specialist centres, there is a nationwide network of local rescue centres and wildlife sanctuaries which care for distressed animals, run by charity staff and dedicated volunteers.

Wildlife charities can put you in touch with your nearest rehabilitator and many are listed on the British Wildlife Rehabilitation Council's website.

Prickly issues

For certain species, the best course of action is to seek advice from experts such as the RSPB for birds, Bat Conservation Trust, or the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust.

Tiggywinkles is a specialist hospital for sick and injured wild animals based in Buckinghamshire, but it also offers a 24-hour emergency advice line for anyone in the UK.

Birds of prey

A poisoned buzzard found next to a poison bait

Unfortunately, our birds of prey can be persecuted - shot, trapped or poisoned to keep them off private land. Here is some advice if you find a casualty:

  • These birds require specialist care, preferably from experts such as Raptor Rescue: a national charity dedicated to their rehabilitation
  • Certain birds - including peregrine falcons and goshawks - must be formally registered with the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency if you take them into your care
  • If you find a dead bird of prey where the cause of death is unclear or it has been shot, report it to RSPB for investigation

The charity is known formally as The Wildlife Hospital Trust; its nickname comes from Beatrix Potter's hedgehog character Mrs Tiggywinkle after it opened a specialist care unit in 1985 to help the animals.

When it comes to helping injured hedgehogs, Tiggywinkles advise thick gloves to protect you from their spines, and a cardboard box lined with a towel to keep them warm while you take them to your nearest vet or rescue centre.

For some of our largest native mammals, British Divers Marine Life Rescue offer advice on how to help stranded whales, dolphins and seals as well as a hotline for marine species in trouble.

But the clear advice from all the experts centres on cautious concern.

"If you're not sure, don't interfere - give us a call, we will then talk you through it and make a decision with you as to whether or not you should take action and the animal needs to come in [to a rescue centre]," says Mrs White.

Was this article useful? We'd love to know what you think, so why not get in touch with us by joining the big Summer of Wildlife conversation on Facebook and Twitter @BBCNature - #summerofwildlife #wildlifeemergency

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