A wildlife charity that rescues thousands of animals a year is under threat because it cannot meet its rising costs.

Volunteers from East Sussex Wildlife Rescue and Ambulance Service dash across the county every day to the aid of injured foxes, badgers, deer, hedgehogs, seals, swans and other wild creatures.

But the charity's popularity means it is finding it hard to pay for the increasing volume of call-outs.

Now boss Trevor Weeks says for the first time this month, the service has more invoices than it has funds available.

He said: "We are virtually broke. There are bills we can hold off paying so we can cover it, but we are extremely short of funds at the moment."

Mr Weeks says an average call-out costs the charity £65, or £200 for a deer hurt in a road accident.

Last year there were 2,210 incidents and so far this year there have been 760, with the busiest season just beginning. In the past year there has been a threefold increase in the number of calls about fox cubs.

Last year the service responded to 45 deer call-outs and has already had that number of calls about deer this year.

The charity needs about £40,000 a year to survive. In the past it has received money from legacies, but has not had one for about 18 months and would prefer to rely on a more regular source of income such as standing orders set up by supporters.

It is staffed entirely by volunteers, who rescue everything from cygnets to seagulls that have fallen off roofs.

Mr Weeks said: "A lot of people don't give to animal charities because they don't think it is helping humans.

"Our service does. People call us from the roadside because they have hit a badger or seen a fox lying injured. Of course these people are extremely distressed. On some occasions they have spent half an hour ringing round to get someone to help."

Although the service receives a number of calls from Eastbourne Borough Council and Sussex Police, it receives no public funding or money from the RSPCA or RSPB.

Mr Weeks has been working with the rescue service for 22 years, initially part-time as a teenager. Recently he has been suffering from severe migraines and high blood pressure, which he believes is the result of stress from work and under-funding. The service sometimes has 50 calls a day.

It is attempting to set up a critical care unit at Horsebridge Vets in Horsebridge, near Hailsham, where it will be able to reduce its vets' bill by ordering medication at cost prices and provide hospital care. It needs £15,000 for equipment.

When this is set up it will save on fuel as volunteers sometimes have to make a 20 or 30-mile trip at the moment to take an injured animal to hospital.

Wild injured animals can sometimes have to wait three or four hours at present for emergency treatment at a vet's. Mr Weeks said: "Wild animals deserve much better care than they are currently getting in this area. It isn't the vets' fault. They help them out as much as possible."

To help, send donations payable to East Sussex WRAS to Peter Mortimer, WRAS Treasurer, Ash Cottage, 73 Friday Street, Eastbourne, East Sussex, BN23 8AY.

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