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The West Country is to have a new Wildlife Teaching Hospital and Education Centre to save more wildlife and provide practical experience for trainee vets from across the UK, and to inspire the region's youngsters by giving them direct access to the natural world.
The move comes at a time when the nation's wildlife has never been under greater threat, so much so that even the much loved hedgehog could become practically extinct within ten years.
The hospital is to be developed at the Secret World Wildlife Rescue Centre, near Highbridge, where a Call of the Wild Appeal to raise £4.4 million to help fund the project and keep the centre running over the next two years has been launched.
Author Sir Terry Pratchett and UK Wildlife TV celebrities Mike Dilger, Simon King, Steve Backshall, Chris Packam and Michaela Strachan are all backing the project.
Secret World founder Pauline Kidner, said much of Britain's wildlife was in decline and the South West had been particularly hard hit because while being the largest rural region, it had also been the fastest developing over the past 20 years:
"We will receive around 5,000 injured or orphaned animals and birds over the coming year, yet when wildlife needs people's support most, the nation is increasingly losing touch with nature. While vets receive virtually no wildlife training, children now spend half the time outdoors that they did 40 years ago and many cannot even identify an oak tree.
The launching of our new hospital and education centre project is a positive move to redress the balance and we are appealing for everyone in the region to give us their support so that we can open on schedule in 2013."
Sir Terry Pratchett, launching the appeal, said Secret World was the South West's only 24 hour wildlife rescue service and its work had never been more vital:
"Orphaned by traffic, hurt by our pollution and rubbish and forced out of their natural habitats by our developments, Britain's wildlife is in serious decline so much so that even the sparrow and the much loved hedgehog are endangered.
Fifty years ago there were 30 million hedgehogs in Britain but now there is only an estimated 1.1 million so if we carry on at this rate they could be extinct in ten years. Yet when humans decide to act they succeed in reversing the trend. I urge everyone to play their part."
When completed, the new teaching hospital will include an operating theatre, examination, preparation and x-ray rooms with a first floor laboratory, lecture theatre and library. It will give Secret World the facilities to provide all veterinary care on one site, to bring faster relief to suffering wildlife. An IT hook-up will allow up to 120 resident students a year to watch procedures being performed by the hospital's in-house veterinary surgeon in the operating theatre below.
Secret World's new Wildlife Education Centre, to include a lecture theatre and meeting room, will be created by extending and renovating a beautiful seventeenth century Goat House barn. Here schools will be encouraged to take part in inspiring educational programmes giving youngsters a unique opportunity to see British wildlife and to learn how to help save it.
Pauline Kidner and her team believe that wildlife admissions to Secret World will double over the next five years. So to meet rising demand, the project will also include 28 indoor recovery areas, 16 rehabilitation enclosures, six new water areas for otters, swans, gulls and other water birds and 24 small and large bird aviaries.
Today the charity employs a 30 strong care staff team supported by 365 volunteer response drivers who operate a 24 hour wildlife rescue service across Bristol, Somerset, Wiltshire, South Gloucestershire, Devon and Dorset.
As part of its Call of the Wild Appeal, the charity will be launching a number of fund raising initiatives over the coming months and is asking individuals and companies from all over the region to send for an information pack and get involved.
For further information on the appeal, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.secretworld.org and click on the Call of the Wild link.
It costs £135 to rescue an animal or bird and £15 to inspire another child so all funds raised will help to keep Secret World going and boost the hospital and education centre project.