IT started as a hobby seven years ago, after Louise Godden responded to a story in the A&T seeking winter foster carers for a pair of juvenile hedgehogs.
Today much of her East Boldre home and garden has been transformed into a sanctuary and hospital for sick and injured hedgehogs which she rehabilitates and then releases back into the wild.
Louise (64) left her admin job at the Forestry Commission two-and-a-half years ago to care for the creatures full-time. She currently has around 45 hogs in specially converted areas of her two-bedroom bungalow and garden.
She has invested thousands of pounds of inheritance left by her mother on converting her sun lounge, garage and garden into a hedgehog haven.
“I don’t really have a maximum capacity because I would always find a space for a hedgehog that needed help – I could not turn a hedgehog away,” Louise told the A&T.
“At last count I had around 45 hedgehogs but they are arriving every day at the moment. I had a family of four come in over the weekend. If they are juveniles I will now have to keep them over the winter before they can be released in the spring.”
She explained: “When they first come in, often they need medicine and a high level of care, so they start off in my intensive care unit in the lounge.
“Next they move into heated cages in the garage and finally I move them outside to a special enclosure where they can relearn hedgehog skills like digging and foraging before they are released.”
Louise was devastated recently when a Jack Russell jumped the badger-proof fence of her outdoor enclosure on Bonfire Night and attacked seven hedgehogs, which all died of their injuries or shock.
She said: “It was just a horrible, horrible thing to happen because I had cared for those hedgehogs and watched them recover and get stronger until finally they were ready to be outside for the final part of their rehabilitation.”
Louise is now making plans to invest more of her savings to increase the height of the three-foot fence surrounding the enclosure.
She said: “I just love hedgehogs and it is wonderful when they are well enough to go back to the wild, but it is very costly.
“I haven’t even really worked out how much I spend – I’m a little afraid to know the answer. But it is worth every penny.
“I don’t have holidays and I don’t buy new clothes or magazines – but I’m very happy. It is the choice I’ve made.”
Under normal circumstances, Louise gets some financial support from giving several talks a year and also has volunteers who arrange charity events on her behalf. She is supported by Seadown Vets at Hythe who give free consultations and only for the medicine.
Once a common feature in Britain, in July 2020 the hedgehog was officially classified as vulnerable to extinction.
Louise said: “The pandemic has meant that our normal fundraising could not take place this year – but I have to keep going.
“We have had some very kind support from individuals and I’m just hoping the money which I inherited when my mother passed away will be enough to keep us going until I get my pension in two years’ time.”
Louise is keen to mention her team of volunteers who visit every day on a rota system to help with feeding, cleaning out and weighing the hedgehogs.
She said: “I just couldn’t do it without the amazing group of mostly older ladies who come in to help. They are all so dedicated and kind. I also have foster carers who I have trained to look after hedgehogs in their own homes if we get too busy.”
Louise first started rescuing hedgehogs after responding to a story in the A&T when New Milton Hedgehog Rescue was appealing for foster carers.
She said: “I got in touch and that first winter I looked after two hedgehogs, as I was also caring for my mother with dementia, so it gave me a bit of an escape. I was hooked straight away – I love hedgehogs and felt I had to do what I could to help them.”
She added: “The A&T also makes an excellent liner for hedgehog cages.”
Louise also spends hours answering emails and phone calls and giving advice on hedgehog care. She is happy to visit gardens when residents contact her with welfare concerns.
She said: “There are plenty of things we can all do to help hedgehogs – having a wild area of the garden, leaving out fresh water and making sure there are gaps in fencing will all be beneficial.
“Once you have hedgehogs visiting your garden you can feed them with dry cat biscuits or special hedgehog food. Wild hedgehogs are desperately trying to fatten up so they can hibernate. With not enough of their natural food available now, they need us to put out food for them.”
East Boldre Hedgehog Rescue is based in Pages Lane. Find it on Facebook or contact Louise on 07595 709617.