A first-time visitor to Leicestershire Wildlife Hospital might expect to see a scruffy hut in a muddy field.
In fact what greets them when they pull into the car park of Britain’s most unusual hospital is something much more impressive.
It’s wooden of course - there’s no money to waste - but it’s more like a respectable homesteader’s ranch than the shanty town of huts you might have anticipated.
It and the surrounding pens and buildings are full of the hospital’s ‘patients’ - a fox, two badgers, birds ranging from a buzzard to a pair of peacocks and almost a hundred hedgehogs.
Angie Downham (52) founder and chief volunteer of the charity (no one here gets paid) says she’s proud of what’s been achieved over the years.
“About £500,000 has been spent here so far” she says. “And we haven’t finished yet.”
As we tour the site, off Fleckney Road, Kibworth Beauchamp, Angie talks about erecting three more timber buildings for the hospital’s growing population of animals and birds.
The expansion plan is currently being scrutinised by Harborough District Council.
“We’ve been here since 2010” said Angie, who lives in Kibworth Beauchamp with husband Chris, who has a sensible Royal Mail job, as well as being the charity’s treasurer.
“We’ve built up gradually, and now we have a team of 64 volunteers.”
Even without paying wages, the charity costs £40,000 a year to run.
Almost every week Angie has a new set of animal anecdotes to tell.
“We’ve just had a tortoise in that was found wandering along the A6 in Leicester” she said.
“This hedgehog was found in Wanlip (north of Leicester) and had been badly mauled by a dog.”
In one small pen there’s a musty-smelling fox cub.
“The fox cub has got mange” explained Angie. It’s a skin disease caused by parasitic mites.
“Half its tale is missing - it might have even chewed it off itself. It’s an urban fox - rural foxes have a better diet, and never get mange.”
Last week a small tawny owl was brought in by a couple from Walcote, near Lutterworth. They found it on the A5, near the Hinckley Island roundabout.
But not all the animal stories have happy endings. Sadly, the tawny owl had died that morning.
There’s better news on a badger cub brought in from Tur Langton, and now playing with a plastic lid in its temporary cage.
“Badger cubs sleep near the topof the sett, so they’re easily got out by a dog” explained Angie. “But this one looks pretty healthy now.”
The injured badgers won’t be accepted back in their original sett, explained Angie. Instead a group of badger waifs and strays will be TB-tested and then allocated their own artificial sett in the wild.
Angie has built up a wide-ranging expertise on wild animal husbandry in her 30 years of caring for them.
Ask her how long she’s been interested in animals and she says “always, always”.
At first local people brought the odd injured animal to her home - now it’s literally hundreds of birds and mammals every year that are dropped off at the wildlife centre.
The next step, now the centre has running water, is to to invite schools along to purpose-built education rooms.
In the meantime, the next charity fundraising event is tomorrow (Friday) night - a Barn Dance and Ploughman’s supper at Countesthorpe Village Hall, from 7.30pm. Tickets are £11 on 0116 288 1395.
The charity’s website is at www.leicesterwildlife hospital.org