Meet the Hitchin family that saves Hertfordshire’s grey squirrels
- Credit: Archant
A pair of Hitchin residents have shared the story of how they started a squirrel sanctuary in their home that has become wildly popular online.
“Because greys matter” has become the mantra for passionate squirrel specialists Paul and Ania, who both live in Hitchin.
Juggling full-time jobs, the pair launched Hitchin Squirrel Rescue earlier this year – which has now grown to cater for four grey squirrels, Ruben, Ronnie, Reggie and Jason.
The married couple have converted all of their garden into a sanctuary for our furry friends, with Paul building spacious aviaries to allow the squirrels some space to roam.
Their story as squirrel saviours begins last August, when Paul and his son discovered something surprising nestled in the branches of a fallen tree in London Road, Hitchin.
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Paul recounts the tale: “The tree was right across, blocking the road. As we were waiting for a tree surgeon, my son came over with his jumper in his hands.
“I was confused, but as he opened it up I had to take a double look. I hadn’t seen a baby squirrel like that for years, they were so small and young their eyes weren’t even open yet.
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“I phoned the wife, and she told me bring them home, so that’s what I did.”
Although the couple admit they didn’t have any real idea about caring for squirrels, they quickly set to work making sure the four-week-old babies, who were named Ronnie and Reggie, had everything they needed.
Using Google, Ania learned how to feed, rehydrate and nurse for them every four hours all through the day and night – comparing the experience to raising kids of your own.
The day that Ronnie first opened her eyes was a memorable moment for the couple.
“I was upstairs in bed, Ania shouted up to tell me Ronnie had opened her eyes for the first time.
“What a feeling that was. To know that we saved them, brought them up and the first person they see was my wife. That was a special moment.”
Despite this joy, the couple were denied a licence by Natural England last November and were warned, by email, they may need to put the squirrels down as they couldn’t legally be released back into the wild.
After successfully appealing and being granted a licence in January, there was no decision to be made. Paul and Ania had welcomed the squirrels into their lives, and would never give up on them.
While it is still against the law to keep squirrels as a pet, Paul and Ania’s home has been transformed into a rescue hub for Hertfordshire’s squirrels that require urgent care.
The family has even received calls for help from as far away as the North of England, but they can only help squirrels in Hertfordshire because they want to focus on their local area.
Now that the squirrels have all settled in, people ask to “pop in” and see this fantastic four all the time.
“They’ve become so popular online and in person – everyone wants a piece of them.” Paul said.
“We get lots of likes and comments on the pictures we post of Ronnie, Ruben and Reggie, but with Jason it’s a whole different story.
“People love him, they go crazy for him!”
Of the four, one armed-squirrel Jason has become the social media sensation – with people from the United States, Germany and even further afield reacting to the updates Paul and Ania post online.
Paul got a phone call from a colleague in Stevenage in April, where his cat had brought a squirrel into his house. Paul went over, picked it up and discovered there was an issue with his paw. One of his arms had “dropped” and it was later revealed that his arm had been broken for some time.
Jason had somehow survived for weeks in the wild, foraging for food and surviving an attack from a cat.
Again, it was advised by a vet that Jason be put down, but Ania fought back and had his arm amputated to save him and give him a second chance at life.
While many of us may not blink twice at squirrels, Paul and Ania spend hundreds of pounds feeding and caring for theirs each month, as the grey squirrel’s natural diet demands fresh fruit and vegetables.
Alongside their own wage, they rely on donations from generous members of the public to help fund Hitchin Squirrel Rescue.
Click here to support Paul and Ania’s charitable work, find out more about Hitchin Squirrel Rescue or alert them to a squirrel in need.