International award for Hemsby wildlife rescue couple

John and Tonia Garner who are to receive a national award at the House of Lords for their work at Fo

John and Tonia Garner who are to receive a national award at the House of Lords for their work at Foxy Lodge - an animal rescue centre they set up with money from their wedding. - Credit: Archant

A couple from Hemsby are to be recognised with a special award at the House of Lords for their caring efforts at a wildlife rescue centre they set up with money from their wedding.

Tonia and John Garner met 10 years ago and soon discovered they shared the same dream - to set up a wildlife sanctuary.

Two years later and after much planning for their future project, the couple married asking friends and family to donate to a fund to start their animal centre, Foxy Lodge Wildlife Rescue, in lieu of gifts.

After spending their honeymoon working on plans for aviaries and enclosures, they set about making their dream a reality.

Since then, they have rescued and rehabilitated hundreds of animals and birds each year, and expect the figure for 2016 alone to exceed 1,000.

Philip Mansbridge, UK director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), which is handing out the award said: 'Tonia's and John's dedication to wildlife rescue is a great example of animal welfare in action. We hope that their efforts will inspire the next generation of animal welfare campaigners and carers. They are very deserving winners of IFAW's Wildlife Rescue Award.'

Mr Garner, 57, said: 'On the whole, wild animals don't have anybody to get them the help and treatment they might need, or to pay the bills for that. What we are doing is just supporting all these animals which would not otherwise have a second chance at a life.'

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A retired railway signalman, John used to take young birds into work with him in order to manage the regular feeds.

While he was often alone doing shift work, he one day surprised his manager who dropped in for a visit and commented on the very life-like bird sculpture on his desk - a concussed and recovering tawny owl.

Mrs Garner, 52, added: 'Without the joint passion we share to help animals, we wouldn't be able to continue this work. It gets tough sometimes but what makes it all worth the effort is when you see a recovered animal leave and regain its freedom.'

The couple are supported in their work by a team of around 20 volunteers who assist with fundraising for the centre so Tonia and John can concentrate on caring for the animals.

Around 70pc of the admissions are wildlife with a number of unwanted or domestic pets also being taken in for re-homing. Many of the wildlife casualties are passed on by local vets or referred by police or the fire service. The aim is to rehabilitate and release all wildlife where possible, with a few animals that cannot be released being given a permanent home at the sanctuary.

The couple will receive their award at IFAW's prestigious Animal Action Awards event, hosted by Baroness Gale and presented by TV wildlife presenter Bill Oddie at the House of Lords on October 18, Tuesday.