PHOTO GALLERY: Erpingham hedgehog open-day visitors hear of new hospital in Trunch

A fourth hedgehog hospital in north Norfolk has just opened its doors to prickly patients, visitors to a fund-raising open day learned today.

The official announcement was made by Sandra Craske at the Erpingham hedgehog rescue centre she has run for the past 22 years.

The latest centre has opened in Brewery Road, Trunch, at the home of Barbara Fowkes, where 15 hedgehogs are already receiving care, including a mum and her four babies and three blind residents.

There are also hospitals in Fairview Road, North Walsham, and in Queen's Road Fakenham, where one of the residents is a white, or 'blonde' hedgehog, with the unlikely name of Jet, who went along to the Erpingham open day to meet the crowds.

Mrs Craske's home and garden were packed with some 200-300 people who turned up to 'ooh' and 'aah' at the spiny stars of the show. Other attractions included bric-a-brac, plant and cake stalls, and refreshments.

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Among visitors was Caroline Taylor and her mother Gill Rose. Mrs Taylor was delighted to see how well baby hedgehog Vee was faring after she took the tiny, four-inch long creature to the centre recently.

Vee was discovered one morning curled up on the concrete outside Vincent's Shopfitters, Newton St Faith, where Mrs Taylor works.

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Mrs Craske warmed Vee and gave her round-the-clock milk until she was out of danger and Mrs Taylor, who signed up as a rescue centre supporter during her visit, is hoping she might eventually be able to release Vee - named in honour of Vincents - into her own Brundall garden.

Vee's rescue is a glimmer of hope in an otherwise period of gloom for the hedgehog, whose numbers are in serious decline.

Mrs Craske said that last year the three hospitals could not save about 60pc of their patients, and she blamed chemical poisoning as the chief threat to the species.

'I would say it's now worse than road accidents,' said Mrs Craske. 'Slug pellets and chemicals used in gardens and farming break down their internal organs. They're brought here, skin and bone, rally for a day or two and then 'bang' - they're dead.

'Farmers leave chemical-free strips around their fields for wildlife but hedgehogs, birds and rabbits don't know they're supposed to stay in them and wander into the middle.'

Mrs Craske's concerns are echoed by the Wildlife Aid Foundation which launched a Save Harry campaign earlier this month, spearheaded by former MP Ann Widdecombe, calling for a Hedgehog Protection Act.

And a British Trust for Ornithology review last year on the state of Britain's hedgehogs, commissioned by the People's Trust for Endangered Species and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, concluded that 'at a conservative estimate a quarter of the population has been lost in the last 10 years.'

Last year the trust and society launched a Hedgehog Street campaign, urging people to make their neighbourhoods and gardens more hedgehog friendly.

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