If you’ve ever tried to pick up a hedgehog, you’ll know it’s no easy task. Yet watching Sandy Boyd handle a prickly customer, you would think it was made of the softest velvet.
Sandy, 80, has been running the Wormit Hedgehog Care Centre from his home in the Fife village for the past 26 years.
It all started one frosty October night in 1994 when he found a young injured hedgehog while out with his dogs.
“I could hear it squeaking so I took it to the vet,” says Sandy. When the vet suggested it needed to be put down, Sandy was adamant he would take it home to nurse it.
“What I knew about hedgehogs back then you could write on a postage stamp,” he says, “but I was determined to try.”
After some research he treated the tiny animal with various homeopathic medicines and, although it was touch and go for a few days, it pulled through. Before he knew it, vets were sending people with sick or injured hedgehogs his way and the Wormit Hedgehog Care Centre was born.
Over the years he and his late wife Alice have looked after thousands of the creatures. As one of the few hedgehog sanctuaries in Scotland, he’s treated hedgehogs brought from as far afield as the Borders, Inverness and Fort William.
An animal lover since childhood, Sandy used to bring home injured hedgehogs when he was a young lad.
“In those days, the 1940s, the road men used to have their own section of roadside to look after with a scythe and I’d occasionally find hedgehogs with a severed limb,” he says. “I’d bring them home and my mum would give me a row because more often than not, they had fleas and ticks.”
Sandy spent the first five years of his life in Egypt and then in South Africa as his father was in the Scots Guards. He vividly recalls the culture shock of returning to his grandparents’ farm near Newburgh in 1944, when he was five.
“In Johannesburg we’d had all mod cons with electric lighting and inside toilets, but at the farm we had to walk down the road to an old shed for a toilet!”
He spent 12 years in the RAF and another eight in the TA before becoming a self-employed heating engineer until 2005. Fitting in a full day’s work while looking after the hedgehogs meant long days back then: “I’d get up at five and see to all the animals, go to work at 8am and then there would be more cleaning out and feeding to do until about 9pm,” he recalls.
One day, he’d been out on his rounds when he got a call from a vet asking him to come and see a hedgehog that was swollen up like a balloon.
“They can ‘gas up’ with balloon syndrome when they’ve been injured,” Sandy explains. “I showed the vet how to insert the needle at an angle to let the air out and advised him he’d need to do it again twice a day over the next three days. That was a long day!”
The number of hedgehogs Sandy has varies from month to month and he’s had as many as 86 at one time. 2019 saw him look after 171 of the little creatures.
Some are undernourished but otherwise healthy, others are orphaned while some are in more serious conditions — they may have received horrific injuries from garden equipment like strimmers, been injured on a road, or by a dog or cat, or poisoned by slug bait.
“People tend to think that hedgehogs thrive on slugs but they’re the worst thing for them as they can give them lungworm, which is very difficult to treat,” says Sandy.
The smaller hedgehogs are kept in a propagator on electric heat pads, while others are housed in various buildings.
Sandy has advice for anyone who has a hedgehog in their garden.
“Their favourite place is under a woodshed but they’re happy anywhere they feel safe like a bin lying on its side,” he says.
“Never give a hedgehog milk and bread,” warns Sandy. “They can’t tolerate lactose. Feed them with dog or cat food in jelly, cat biscuits, mealworms, and provide fresh water for them to drink.
“And if you find an injured one, put it in a box immediately and get in touch with me – be very careful to handle it gently as you can break its ribs if you lift it wearing big heavy gloves,” he warns.
When a hedgehog is fit enough to be released Sandy lets them go on the nature trail near his home, “although one is back already in its nesting box,” he chuckles. In the wild a hedgehog is lucky to survive for as long as a year and a half but in care, says Sandy, they can live until they’re nine or 10, and many of his hedgehogs are happily rehomed.
Although he doesn’t generally give the hedgehogs names, he’s made one or two exceptions for a couple of real characters. There was Edinburgh, who came to him from the capital, and weighed in at a colossal 2.3kg – the average weight for a hedgehog is between 0.4kg and one kg.
Then there’s Flipper, who came to Sandy seven years ago and is still with him now – her injured front leg healed at an awkward angle giving her the name Flipper.
Sandy pays for all their treatment, equipment and food out of his own pocket and from donations he receives. He can though as many as 46 cans of pet food a day in the early part of the year.
The number of hedgehogs living in the British countryside has plummeted by more than half since 2000, which makes Sandy’s role as the hedgehog’s hero even more crucial. In recognition of his work he was nominated for a Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland Award for the Environment in 2013.
Although the award was won by wildlife film maker and presenter Gordon Buchanan, the nomination for such a prestigious award was testament to Sandy’s and Alice’s dedication to these helpless creatures.
To find out more or to donate dog or cat food, visit wormithedgehogs.co.uk or call 01382 541311.