FROM a young squirrel left helpless after taking a wayward leap in a canopy of trees, to a rare bird unable to take flight in the skies above, these are among thousands of members of Scotland’s diverse wildlife population reliant on a helping hand.
Now, the country’s leading animal welfare charity has welcomed an “incredibly encouraging” rise in the number of sick and injured animals being returned to natural habitats.
The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Scottish SPCA) said it was able to rescue and release nearly 2,800 animals in 2013, more than 400 up on the 2011 figure.
They include a capercaillie nursed back to full health after it sustained an injury to its shoulder and a pine marten cub left unable to move after falling from a tree.
The spike in rescues – an increase of nearly a fifth over the 24-month period – has coincided with the work of the charity’s National Wildlife Rescue Centre, a dedicated multi-million-pound resource which opened its doors two years ago.
The Scottish SPCA said the increase in the number of distressed animals being cared for is in part down to “increased awareness” among the public about how to tend to wildlife. Over the past five years, the number of wild animals arriving in its care has increased by almost 70 per cent.
However, it also warned that it is tending to hundreds more animals this year than in 2013 and expects to deal with a record number of injured animals in 2014.
Speaking at the launch of the charity’s annual wildlife week, Colin Seddon, manager of the rescue centre at Fishcross near Alloa, Clackmannanshire, said the facility had ensured the Scottish SPCA was enjoying a growing international status, but also a heavier workload.
He said: “2013 was our first full year at Fishcross and this Wednesday marks our two year anniversary.
“Last year we were able to rescue and release 2,795 wild animals back into the wild, an 18 per cent increase on 2011 [2,364 animals], which was the last complete year we spent at our former site at Middlebank in Fife. This year to date we have cared for 200 more wild animals than in the same period last year and we expect to take in more casualties by the end of 2014 than ever before.”
Over the past two years, Mr Seddon and his staff have documented some of the success stories at the £3.5million National Wildlife Rescue Centre, which is funded entirely by donations.
Mr Seddon pointed to the centre’s on-site veterinary facilities as a huge boon, which means staff do not have to move animals once they are taken in, keeping human interaction and stress to a minimum.
As well as veterinary facilities, the centre includes seal pools, wild mammal enclosures, a stable block for deer casualties, and aviaries. It can also care for up to 1,000 oiled birds at a time.
It replaced the Middlebank site, originally designed as an oil bird cleaning unit, but which was being stretched as staff tried to cope with the volume and diversity of animals requiring care.
Mr Seddon said: “Our staff provide a very high standard of care for Scotland’s wildlife and our international reputation is growing.
“We have been approached by other organisations for advice which is really positive and recipes specially devised by our team to feed weak and injured birds are now being used by other wildlife charities.
“It’s wonderful to know that we’re not only helping the animals directly in our care, but others all over the world.”
Mr Seddon also praised an increased desire among ordinary people to help stricken sick, injured and orphaned wildlife.
He added: “Releasing fit and healthy wild animals back to their natural habitats is always our aim wherever possible, so this is incredibly encouraging.
“We are tremendously proud of our progress and grateful to all our supporters who made it possible for us to build this much needed centre.”
Anyone who discovers an injured or distressed animal should call the SSPCA Animal Helpline on 03000 999 999.
A week-old red squirrel kit found by a dog in Inverness woodland was taken to the centre after it is believed it fell from a tree.
The orphan, christened Squirrelly by staff, was syringe-fed every two to three hours until he was old enough to be moved on to solid food.
He was released into the wild at two months old.
Another rehabilitated animal, Martina, was found beneath a tree in Highlands after suffering a fall.
Veterinary staff diagnosed the ten- week-old pine marten cub as suffering from a back injury, which would have left her extremely vulnerable to predators.
She responded well to treatment and was later released into her natural habitat.
A capercaillie was among animals treated by staff, the first time the charity’s wildlife team had ever dealt with the rare bird, part of the grouse family.
After being found with a shoulder injury in Aberdeenshire, it was released back into the wild less than a week after receiving treatment.