British Divers Marine Life Rescue
British Divers Marine Life Rescue (photo: Steve Marsh)
British Divers Marine Rescue

News

2011-10-04 13:42:59

BDMLR Medics Help Out At RSPCA West Hatch

After completing the BDMLR medic course in Thurrock on bank holiday Sunday, I drove back to Bristol thinking that it could a be a long wait before I get my first call to a stranded animal in the floating docks of Bristol or the River Avon, the South East had sounded so busy with so many opportunities. Having forgotten my original thoughts I watched with interest the Manx Shearwaters being collected from the surf at Newgale, Pembrokeshire on the morning news of 7th October, smiling because I knew the area so well having wild camped with my partner (in our camper van) earlier in the year, watching the beautiful sunsets. I thought that if it was on the news the incident was probably completed and dealt with. Later that day I received an email from Julia at BDLMR HQ asking for volunteers to help at West Hatch RSPCA centre in Taunton, to assist feeding 200 plus Manx Shearwater birds. Having had no experience with birds and thinking this would fall to the RSPB I wasn't sure whether I was likely to be of any assistance but recalled a comment by Mark Gregory who ran the original training course in Thurrock, who simply said 'now trained you will only get out what you put in, the more you attend, the more experience you will gain and be of more use to BDMLR', so I contacted the West Hatch. Peter Venn, the wildlife centre manager said that he had sufficient volunteers on the Wednesday but needed help on the Thursday, could I be available for a shift start at 8am, to which I agreed.

Helping feeding a shearwaterOn Thursday morning I got up at 6am to drive down and be ready to assist in any way that I could, not knowing what direction that this might take. At 7.45 I was greeted by a smiling Krista, one of the wildlife centre supervisors, followed shortly by the centre manager Peter. By 8am there were several of us there including a further 3 BDMLR medics and we were divided into pairs within groups going to different areas of the centre, I was paired up with a chap called Dave. My role was to catch the birds and hold them whilst Dave carefully manoeuvred a feeding tube down its beak and into the gullet squirting a VERY fishy paste in through a syringe, cleaning out their pens as we went. Having completed our share of the now 320 Manx Shearwaters, Dave tells me that I'm needed to help with a Shag! That's all he said for quite some time, leaving me a little shocked and not sure whether I had heard him right so I just dutifully followed. Dave is six foot plus and I'm five foot(ish) and I wasn't sure whether his words were flying over my ears but he went on to saying something about 'whilst with her, you have to be very careful because she will do her best to take your eyes out '.  Because of my confusion I just decided to remain quiet and continue to follow Dave until things became clearer. As we neared the pen it was obvious that Dave, who it transpired, was none other than Dave McDonald the local BDLMR co-ordinator, was talking about the bird 'The Shag'. This Shag was being cared for after it had a fishing hook in its beak and had an operation to remove a second hook from its stomach. I still wasn't sure if Dave had realised how what he had asked me had sounded to such a novice, or whether he was deliberately winding me up. Those of you who know him better than I do can make your own minds up.

From the Shag we moved on to a seal pup which had been brought in from Wales having lost its mother, with Dave jumping her and me tube feeding her. Now I was really learning what we had been taught in the training, first hand. Dave and I joined Carol from the RSPCA in a lesson of how to gut hundreds of fish and make fish soup in double quick time, I doubt if I am likely to eat fish for some time. During lunch Dave told me that he had agreed with Carol that I was going to jump the seal pup after lunch and learn to tube the Manx. To ensure there was no pressure on me, an audience had gathered and I had to fill the one size fits all waterproof over trousers. They were either too big for me or too small for Dave, I was too nervous to work out which.

Helping with bird bathingThat afternoon I had the opportunity to wander around the centre seeing all of their work on the so many different species that they have to deal with. With the Manx alone, each bird (once strong enough) needs a fifteen minute wash and is then retained in a floating chamber to ensure that every aspect of them is working prior to release. By the last feed at 8pm some volunteers had to leave but more appeared to take their place and by 9pm I gave the last feed to the seal and shag with Carols assistance. After cleaning down fully and restocking the fish soup for the next morning I left the RSPCA centre, smelling extremely fishy but having felt that I had done a good full day and learnt so much more than I probably could have on several BDMLR call outs.

As a result of the efforts of Dave and Carol teaching me so much and so well, I felt compelled to put something further back into the Centre by offering to help on other occasions, otherwise it felt that the hard work that they had put into me had been wasted. Consequently, I offered to come back the next day and the following Tuesday.

All of the staff and volunteers I met, in particular Dave and Carol, made this a totally enjoyable experience and made the comments of Mark so relevant and true. I never once had a dull moment and cannot recall such a 14 hour day of banter and humour, despite being a self confessed workaholic. It will certainly be one of those life long memories, and as a result of this I feel better placed to assist and will often be back to West Hatch when they need assistance. For those of you who have been trained and are waiting for the phone call, I can only say it could be down to you to make the first move. Centres like West Hatch are out there and are always looking for assistance, what you get back is more than you might expect. Life is what you make it!

A big thanks to Dave and Carol and all the staff and volunteers at West Hatch RSPCA Centre but also to Mark for his words of wisdom on the training course. Never let it be said that these people do not work hard, their thoughts are rarely about money or their own personal problems, only the welfare of the animals in their care.

John Hardy
Bristol Medic