Almost 40 years ago a local wildlife rescuer arrived on my doorstep with a seagull. It had one wing and had been languishing in a bath somewhere in Surrey. It was my 'patient zero'. Since then, what started as a hobby to take my mind off a stressful city career, has become a lifelong calling.
Today the charity I founded, the Wildlife Aid Foundation (WAF), deals with over 20,000 wildlife incidents a year and is embarking on its most ambitious project to date. We aim to develop a new, green, state-of-art headquarters and natural wetlands sanctuary where we can continue our work and inspire a generation of nature lovers. At a projected cost of £5 million, we face a long hard road and I'm still working out whether the plans are inspired or insane!
Currently, WAF is staffed by a dedicated army of over 300 volunteers and we run a nationwide education programme. Our Youtube channel has a global audience with 100,000 subscribers. Our videos have attracted 25 million views and our activities were the subject of the longest-running observational wildlife documentary on British television. And did I mention my MBE!
It is with this provenance that we have begun to take the first steps towards our future. Wildlife Aid grew organically, from a few sheds in my garden to the site it occupies today, complete with fully-function veterinary hospital, rehabilitation pool, aviaries and enough pens for hundreds of patients. But in truth, we outgrew these surroundings decades ago and many parts are in need of renewal and renovation. It has been my dream for many years to relocate to a new, purpose-built headquarters, and that is now the project we have put in motion. A surprise legacy has allowed us to purchase a pocket of land in Surrey. Now the hard work begins. Fundraising for such an ambitious, important scheme will not be easy and I will be exploring every avenue available; from sponsorship deals with local businesses to pulling in favours from wealthy patrons.
I was never one to take the stress-free option and this relocation project - which we've given the working title 12 Acres - certainly won't be easy. It will be a world-first, bringing together a cutting-edge veterinary hospital, an education centre and a natural wetland sanctuary for wildlife. We are at the start of a long, hard road that will no doubt drive everyone involved bonkers. But after 36 years it is time for us to do something bigger and most importantly to create a legacy for future generations.
For me, the most important aspect of the project is the planned education centre where children and young people can learn about the natural world around them. I have been fortunate enough to travel the world and on my travels I learned about the harm man is doing to the planet. Everywhere I went, the natural world was under threat as a result of our encroachment. It is happening at all levels all of the time. It not just the big, high-profile endangered species that are in trouble. At the lowest level man is creating untold damage. The oceans are full of plastic, soil is retrogressing and degenerating on a global scale. I believe we still have little clue as to the extent of the damage we have done. The more we investigate, the more horrors we uncover.
The world is a complex, holistic web of interlocking systems and when the ones at the bottom get knocked out of kilter, everything above suffers. I still remember my first science lesson in secondary school. It was an explanation of how the food chain works and how everything at the top relies on everything at the bottom. The subtext was clear; ignore the small stuff at your peril. This is why what we are planning at 12 Acres is so vital. If we can teach the next generation to take more care of the world we rely on, there might be some hope for the future. At 12 Acres young people will be able to learn about the vital elements of the world we live in; such as the invertebrates, the hedgehogs and the birds. And they will be inspired. And that's the best we can do for the planet.
So this is my call to action. If you care about the planet you live on and the future of your children and their children, help us create something truly special and inspiring. Donations, introductions and support of any kind will be greatly appreciated. You can donate through the WAF website at www.wildlifeaid.org.uk or get in touch direct at firstname.lastname@example.org