The West Hatch branch of the RSPCA care for an array of wildlife including owls, deer, seabirds, badgers and seals. The branch is currently struggling with the unprecedented number of seals that have come in for care this winter. This is after a private rehabilitation facility in Wales recently shut down.
There are four common reasons for seals needing extra care. Some are abandoned or orphaned before they are old enough and able to take care of themselves. Often seals get caught in fishing gear such as nets or broken fishing line and subsequently become stuck, while others are bitten by predators or thrown against rocks in choppy waters.
Since the closure of the Welsh wildlife hospital, West Hatch has become the go-to facility for seals in the South West. Of the four RSPCA wildlife centres, only the East Winch branch has specialist seal facilities, including deep-dive pools which help the staff assess more thoroughly whether the seals are ready to be released. While the West Hatch branch does what they can, they are limited by their current pools which are too shallow to allow the seals to exhibit natural behaviour. At the moment the seals have to finish their rehabilitation at another centre where they can dive deeper.
Most years the centre cares for around forty seals, but this winter they expect to see twice as many. Combe Martin Wildlife and Dinosaur Park have taken on some of the seals while the centre is overcrowded, and the waterfowl have been moved out to temporarily accommodate the seals who have remained at the West Hatch centre.
The RSPCA decided that they wanted to provide better facilities so they could cope with the influx of seals. They plan to build bigger, deeper seal pools with better water filtration, which will allow the seals to complete their fitness programmes in West Hatch before they are released into the wild. It costs roughly £22 a week to care for just one seal, which can add up to £500 over the course of their stay.
Elaine and Chris Fairfax visited the centre to see the incredible work done there every day. They got to see some of the animals, as well as the current set-up the seals have. When they learned about the project to build better facilities for the seals Elaine was moved to donate £25,000 towards the cost of the build, bringing the total raised to around £112,000.
The centre manager for West Hatch said, “This amazing donation from Animal Friends Insurance will go a long way towards making it possible for us to build a new deep water seal pool. Their significant contribution will help ensure we will always be there to support the rehabilitation and return to the wild of sick, injured and orphaned seals.”
If you’d like to help with the project then you can make a donation to the West Hatch RSPCA wildlife centre here.