‘IT was a good training exercise for the fire crews’, said Diana Lewis, ambulance driver for the North Devon Animal Ambulance charity, when crews from Hatherleigh Fire Station were called to assist in the rescue of a hedgehog.

The hedgehog had fallen, head first, through the bars of a cattle grid at Merton near Hatherleigh, and was unable to escape.

On Saturday, September 2, Diana contacted the fire service as she was unable to safely lift the heavy cattle grid by herself to free the trapped animal. The crew from Hatherleigh station happened to be between jobs at the time so agreed to come out with heavy-duty lifting equipment to aid Diana in her mission.

Diana said: “The little hedgehog had fallen into a deep cattle grid. People who live in Merton, had seen him go in there two days previously and had been keeping an eye on him and trying to help get him out. Unfortunately they couldn’t get him out so they contacted me.”

Diana explained the difficulty in trying to release the hedgehog from between the heavy cattle grid bars. She said: “Unfortunately it is a hedgehog’s nature that if you go to touch them they curl up into a little ball meaning the only way to have got him through the bars would have been to squash him through, which wouldn’t have been good.

“The people who found him had already tried to release him using a wooden ramp but to no avail, he kept falling off it.

“In the end I had to ask the fire crew to come and help us as the cattle grid was too heavy for us to lift and it would have been dangerous for us to try — what if we had dropped it on someone’s hand, etc?”

Diana was full of praise for the fire crew who were also able to use the opportunity to gain some practice using their hydraulic lifting gear. Diana said: “The crew were brilliant, they used their expertise to assess the situation and decided to use their hydraulic lifting gear, which is normally used to lift cars if someone has become trapped in an RTC.

“If anyone complains that this was a waste of resources and time for the fire crews, it was not. They often use animal rescues as training exercises and it is very good practice for them to use the hydraulic equipment for a real situation, albeit not a dangerous one.

“There is only so much they are able to learn back at the fire station. It is no good them waiting to use their equipment during a major incident — the more practice beforehand, the better!”

Diana explained that after using the lifting gear the crews blocked off the cattle grid, to prevent it falling down, while a member of the crew bent down to retrieve the hedgehog. Diana said: “Once they had lifted the cattle grid enough and blocked it off the lady firefighter was able to reach down and gently retrieved the hedgehog. By this point he was very dehydrated and hungry. He is doing well now and hopefully he will be back up to speed by the time he is released — but we will definitely not be releasing him near any cattle grids!”

For more information about the North Devon Animal Ambulances’ work visit its website www.northdevonanimalambulance.co.uk