FEATURE: Somerset’s Secret World Wildlife and Rescue celebrates its 25-year anniversary – but what is next?

PUBLISHED: 09:00 07 April 2017

Resident foxes at Secret World.

Resident foxes at Secret World.

Rachel Whitelock

Secret World Wildlife and Rescue, in East Huntspill, celebrates its 25th anniversary this year – but that could just be the start for a charity with a host of developments planned for the coming years.

Secret World chief exectuive David Foulds.Secret World chief exectuive David Foulds.

The rescue centre – which rehabilitates injured animals before releasing them back into the wild – welcomed new chief executive David Foulds back in July last year. He takes over from Pauline Kidner, who founded the centre 25 years ago, as she looks to retire in the next three years.

Reporter Sheridan Robins this week met up with the two of them to discuss Secret World’s plans for the future and how much the charity has changed over the past quarter of a century...

Secret World may be small but it has a lot to offer. Not only are there areas for the site’s resident animals, there are also a number of treatment rooms, an education centre and a new garden and marquee.

Resident deer at Secret World.Resident deer at Secret World.

As well as this, it currently has temporary buildings which, for the next three years, will be used to house crucial medical equipment before a new animal hospital is built on site.

Pauline told the Mercury it has to be finished on time so she can actually retire.

She said: “I am 70 years old now and so the work on the animal hospital has to be done by 2020.

“We have to move with the times and we want to educate children about helping animals.”

Hedgehog loving ecologist and author Hugh Warwick talking to youngsters about hedgehogs.Hedgehog loving ecologist and author Hugh Warwick talking to youngsters about hedgehogs.

The centre plans to run workshops with schools in order to teach them the importance of protecting Somerset’s native wildlife.

However, it faces a dilemma.

Secret World has a number of open weekends throughout the year and even opened daily last year, where visitors enjoyed seeing – and in some cases even handling – resident animals, including owls, a deer and some foxes.

However, other animals are looked after separately and kept away from the public so they do not become tame. If this was to happen, then they would not be able to be released back into the wild.

David Foulds and Pauline Kidner at Secret World.David Foulds and Pauline Kidner at Secret World.

Pauline told the Mercury Secret World staff must find some sort of balance between engaging children, and safeguarding the animals in their care.

She said: “No-one can deny if you show an animal to a child – or anyone – it gets their attention.

“But we are hoping with the new hospital that we can also introduce more cameras so people can see how the animals are doing with live footage.

“That way you are showing people without disturbing the animals or steering away from what we are about.”

Secret World has already overcome a number of previous challenges during its 25 years. The charity receives no Government funding and relies on donations to keep it going.

This has been made clear in recent weeks, after it was announced the charity’s night rescue service was being scrapped due to financial struggles.

However, a group in Burnham has now taken on this responsibility and Pauline remains involved with its work.

She said: “It is a low number of calls which we get between the times of 8pm and 8am and so the impact was minimal and it was not sustainable for us.

“But we are very lucky to have volunteers who have stepped up to help.”

David said he feels this has been a positive year for the centre and is happy with the changes which have occurred.

He said: “I think over the past few years, it lost its way a little and didn’t really know what it was.

“Now we have a clear plan and we have ways of getting some money back into the charity so we can continue to rehabilitate animals.

“It is amazing how far it has come in 25 years but it was in danger of standing still, rather than moving forward.”

Recent developments include a garden and marquee area which can be used for functions – including weddings – while work is ongoing to create a path to an education centre, as well as the new hospital.

Any money made from functions will go straight to the charity and Pauline said she is embracing the changes, with her focus being on securing the support needed to ensure the charity can continue to be the Secret World she created.

She added: “We don’t want to lose the family focus we have but we do have to get people through the door to ensure the charity keeps going.

“I am very keen to still tell the stories of our animals and focus on education. I don’t just mean the good stories either as there are nasty stories and, as bad as it sounds, animals do die and we need people to realise that.

“There are so many issues and we need to show them both sides so they know what they can do to ensure they do not hurt animals, or what to do if an animal is hurt.”

Both Pauline and David are focused on the new hospital, which is currently scheduled to be finished in 2019.

David added: “It is important we get it right and it gives us some time to fundraise.

“I have always seen the potential of Secret World and it is a great achievement to celebrate 25 years. Now, we need to immediately focus on the next three years so we can start to build for the next 25 years.”

Secret World will next open to the public across Easter weekend and will incorporate celebrating 25 years of helping British wildlife.

The centre, in New Road, will be open from Good Friday to Easter Monday and will include talks and a host of activities, including an Easter treasure hunt and craft tent.

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