A WILDLIFE rescue service is handling a record-number of casualties this year, despite volunteer shortages amid the coronavirus crisis.

East Sussex Wildlife Rescue and Ambulance Service (WRAS) dealt with more than 800 incidents in both May and June – an increase of more than 200 cases over the same period during previous years.

The charity, based at Whitesmith near Lewes, is predicted to rescue and treat more than 4,000 animals and birds in 2020.

The Argus: A duckling rescue at CowbeachA duckling rescue at Cowbeach

WRAS founder Trevor Weeks said the main reason for the increase in casualty numbers is due to more people being at home during lockdown, who noticed more wildlife incidents in their gardens.

He said: “People would normally be at work and not see the casualties in their gardens, which would otherwise have been found dead on their return from work.

The Argus: One of the many baby birds rescued by WRAS this springOne of the many baby birds rescued by WRAS this spring

“People have also been getting out walking more and spotting casualties.

“The busy spring and summer season started earlier than normal due to the mild winter and good weather in the spring, which means May saw us deal with over 841 incidents – many involving baby birds – in comparison to the previous high of 562 in May 2018. May and June has been our busiest season so far and we still have more records to add to the database.”

The coronavirus pandemic meant nearly all the charity’s volunteers had to stand down earlier this year to reduce the risk of the virus entering the rescue centre’s hospital, which could have forced the centre to close completely.

WRAS staff were classed as key workers and had to prioritise casualty care while rescue teams were left short-staffed.

The Argus: Trevor with a rescued hedgehogTrevor with a rescued hedgehog

Trevor said: “Our volunteer rescue teams were decimated, which meant we struggled to deal with some types of rescue and had to give advice over the phone to help people deal with situations themselves, like birds fallen down chimneys.

“Luckily we had a few volunteers who were furloughed and after assessing the risk and number of people they would be coming into contact with, they started helping out, many working several days a week at our hospital.

“Without them we would have had to close our doors.

The Argus: A swift being released by WRAS staff in Lewes in JulyA swift being released by WRAS staff in Lewes in July

“Our staff and volunteers deserve medals – I have never seen such a dedicated bunch of people work so hard in my life.”

WRAS is appealing for donations as its running costs have increased while it has lost income from cancelled events and had to close its Eastbourne charity shop.

To donate, go to wildlifeambulance.org.