WARWICKSHIRE WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
By Ann Evans
Photos: Rob Tysall
In the centre of the bustling Warwickshire town of Nuneaton, you’ll find an animal sanctuary with a difference. The Nuneaton and Warwickshire Wildlife Sanctuary is a haven for foxes, badgers, swans, owls, hawks – in fact any kind of wild creature that is sick, injured, abandoned or unable to survive on its own.
The sanctuary is run by kind hearted animal lover, Geoff Grewcock, who has made this his life’s work since being forced to retire because of an injury sustained in his job as a security guard thirteen years ago.
Geoff’s decision to create a wildlife sanctuary began in 2001 when he heard about an injured swan that was put to sleep simply because there was nowhere for it to rest and recuperate. Geoff decided to set up a sanctuary in his own back garden.
In the first ten years the sanctuary cared for 6,500 birds and 4,250 animals with just about every sort of creature that inhabits the British Isles – as well as some that certainly aren’t native to these shores such as a red tailed boa constrictor found as a stray in a hanging basket; a bearded dragon lizard; an unwanted tarantula and a python to name but a few.
“The python had been dumped inside a cardboard box and left in a local park,” said Geoff. “Passers by realised there was something alive inside the box, so called me out. Finding that it was a python didn’t worry me, I like snakes. Spiders however, that’s a different matter. I don’t even like house spiders. We currently have a very large bird eating spider which the girls on the volunteer staff have to deal with – I don’t go anywhere near it!”
The exotic reptiles and insects tend to be unwanted pets, while the wildlife is often young orphaned animals whose parents have been killed – accidentally or deliberately. These small vulnerable animals generally require hand raising and bottle feeding with 24/7 care.
Geoff and his team of 30 volunteers provide medication, rest and recuperation until the creature is able to be released back into the wild. However, if it could not survive on its own then a safe home will be found for it – if necessary remaining at the sanctuary for the rest of its life.
“We only release animals back into the wild if it’s a safe area, where they won’t be hunted,” Geoff explained. “If it’s not safe, we don’t release them. But when we do release a now healthy bird or animal back into its natural habitat, it’s the most wonderful feeling in the world.”
Over the years, the sanctuary has had seven foxes come into its care. One tiny fox cub was saved by the prompt action of a passing bus driver. He spotted some ravens attacking something on the ground and stopped his bus to investigate. He found it was a tiny black animal that didn’t even have its eyes open. He took it to the sanctuary where the three day old fox cub was successfully hand reared and named – what else but Raven.
Geoff seems to have a natural affinity with foxes, some that became so tame and friendly, that he’s able to walk them on a lead with his rescue dogs. One being Roxy, now 13 which he’s had from a three month old cub. Other permanent residents include Tinsel the turkey who arrived at the sanctuary just before Christmas a few years ago. He made a best friend of a roe deer who he likes to snuggle down with.
Then there’s Barney the macaw – a household pet now. He hit the headlines as the famous swearing macaw after being featured on television’s Britain’s Worst Pets. “He was previously owned by a lorry driver, which accounts from his swearing,” Geoff hastily told me.
Other crazy rescued pets are Charlie an African grey parrot who does a great impression of the smoke alarm, and another parrot, Sunny who squawks “fire!”
As well as rescuing wildlife, Geoff has also acquired five rescue dogs – Misty, Toby, Buster, Tammy and Jasmin – who are always interesting in the new arrivals. Each of these dogs with its own harrowing tale to tell, who have gone on to play very special roles at the sanctuary.
Jasmin, an Irish greyhound had been locked in a shed. She was emaciated and in a very sorry state when Geoff took her in some years ago. Kindness, care and attention soon had her in tip top form and then an amazing caring nature came to the fore when a tiny two-week old fawn was rushed into the sanctuary semi conscious. The young roe deer’s parents had been killed and there was little hope that the fawn would survive.
“What usually happens with young deer in this kind of situation is that they get stressed out and basically die of fright,” explained Geoff. “We put the fawn, who we named Bramble into the hospital unit and straight away Jasmin took it upon herself to go in and settle down with him, licking him and keeping him calm.Bramble made a remarkable recovery, he didn’t show any signs of stress and the two of them became the best of friends.”
Similarly with Yorkshire Terrier, Misty, she took on the role of surrogate mother to two newborn fox cubs. “A member of the public found what they thought were two puppies, only a few days old,” said Geoff. “They handed them over to Dogs Trust who quickly realised they weren’t dogs at all, but fox cubs – not true foxes either, but crosses of Arctic and Desert foxes. Some years ago, Animal Rights people released some Arctic and Desert foxes into the wild, and these were obviously descendants of them.”
Dogs Trust passed the fox cubs to Geoff to hand rear but it wasn’t long before he had some unexpected additional help. “When bottle feeding cubs this young, I was also having to stimulate them to go to the toilet,” he explained. “In the wilds their mother would have done this by licking them. I was feeding them one day when Misty came in and started licking them just as a mother would have done – she just completely took over the role of mother. The cubs who we named Dawn and Dusk have grown up really tame, and they absolutely love romping and playing with all the dogs.”
On one of my visits to the sanctuary two new arrivals were a magnificent European Eagle Owl and an impressive buzzard which had been abandoned by their previous owners. And it was all credit to Geoff’s compassion that the birds had quickly learned to trust him.
“European Eagle Owls are used in fox hunting and it is legal,” explained Geoff as Marty the owl settled comfortably on his arm. “ The breed is the world’s largest owl. It has a wing span of 200cm and a weight of 1.5 to 3.2 kg. They are found in Europe and Asia. The owners tried to kill this one, when they wanted rid of it, which is horrific.
“ Marty is eight years old, he’s absolutely gorgeous and so affectionate. But you can only hold him for a certain length of time otherwise your arms start to ache!”
“He makes an impressive deep hooting sound. Sometimes when I’ve been out on a call at night collecting an injured creature and I come back here in the middle of the night and hear that deep hooting sound, it gives you a bit of a tingle up the spine!”
This year alone Geoff has had 15 badgers in. Some have been badly injured on the roads, others have been shot, poisoned or snared, all of which is illegal. Some have been so badly injured that they couldn’t be saved. Orphaned badger cubs however give a lot of joy to the sanctuary staff.
“At the moment we have three badger cubs. They came to us at one week old after both their parents had been shot, which was really upsetting. But we hand reared them and now they are the most beautiful, fantastic animals, they just never stop playing.”
Through the generosity of the public, the sanctuary now has two fully equipped wildlife ambulance to cope with emergency rescues around the clock, in addition to receiving casualties brought in by the public 24/7. But with the number of casualties and long term residents increasing year upon year, the need for the future is to try and find larger premises, and that requires additional money to the everyday running costs.
Geoff added that they are also extremely grateful to Ambion Vets of Market Bosworth who provide the sanctuary with medical support, and Pets at Home who are also very supportive to the charity.
Never forgetting of course, the team of volunteers and fund raisers. “Without our volunteer staff the sanctuary just couldn’t run,” said Geoff. “I’m very grateful to everyone who helps in so many different ways.”
CAN YOU HELP?
The Nuneaton and Warwickshire Wildlife Sanctuary is run purely on the generosity of the public.
It costs on average £360 per week to keep the sanctuary open, and a further £120 per week on food and bedding for the animals in their care. Please help them to continue to rescue and rehabilitate Britain’s wildlife.
Please visit http://www.nuneatonwildlife.co.uk
By Ann Evans
Photos by: Rob Tysall www.tysallsphotography.org.uk