Secret World Wildlife Rescue cares for hundreds of hedgehogs each year, so is no stranger to these much-loved creatures, but now a very special hedgehog has taken up residence at the wildlife centre near Burnham-On-Sea.

A beautiful new work of art by street artist ATM will be on show to the public for the first time at Secret World’s Spines and Shells open weekend on Saturday 25th and Sunday 26th July.

The larger-than-life hedgehog has been painted on a wall at Secret World in order to help draw the public’s attention to the decline of the native prickly mammal, voted Britain’s national species, and how we can help protect it.

It is unusual for ATM to paint in the countryside because he usually works in urban areas. He paints endangered birds, insects and other creatures in the places where they once lived to raise awareness of their plight and to inspire people to restore or create habitat where these creatures could once again flourish.

“As so many once-common British animals and birds are disappearing at an alarming rate, it is vitally important that we reconnect our children with the natural world and all its wonders,” says ATM.

“In an age of virtual reality and the seductive power of computer screens in all their forms, this is both very challenging and essential. The declines of hedgehogs and so many birds and insects are so rapid and dramatic that a massive change in our behaviour is imperative.”

“Hedgehogs, along with song thrushes and so many other small birds, fall victim to the excessive use of slug pellets and pesticides in our gardens and allotments. It has to be remembered that as we kill these insects and other invertebrates that feed on our flowers and vegetables, we are also killing the creatures that naturally eat them, the hedgehogs and birds. “

“This message has to be reinforced, as no doubt most gardeners and allotment-keepers also lament the disappearance of these beloved and once-familiar garden creatures. A big wall painting of a hedgehog in a very public place will be of great appeal to children, it will inspire them to think about hedgehogs and encourage them to ask questions about them and what they need.”

Secret World cared for over 500 rescued hedgehogs last year, and is currently caring for 18 adult hedgehogs on site and 57 juvenile hedgehogs – some of these youngsters are being looked after by carers off site.

Animal Carer Trudi added: “Our aim is always to release hedgehogs back into the wild wherever possible. It’s important to make sure they have gained enough weight and are old enough before they can be released, particularly later in the year as hibernation time approaches.”

“Out in the wild they face many challenges including loss of habitat and loss of access to food as more and more of us enclose our gardens. An important part of Secret World’s work is to help people understand how we can all encourage hedgehogs, by making our gardens accessible, creating wildlife corners – for example with a simple woodpile, and avoiding hazards, like fruit netting too close to the ground which they can get caught up in. So, learning about hedgehogs is a really important part of hedgehog protection.”

Sophie Hampson, Learning and Outreach Manager at Secret World, said: “We are so excited to have this amazing work of art on our wall here at Secret World. The hedgehog will be a wonderful discussion point for our upcoming learning programme with school groups when they visit us, so they can learn about the decline of our native British hedgehogs and what they can do to help. These school visits are part of our Heritage Lottery Funded learning programme to reconnect children with our rural heritage. Visitors to Secret World this weekend will also see the great progress we are making on the exciting restoration of a Grade II Listed barn on-site that will become our Learning Centre to host these school visits.”

Secret World is open from 10am-4pm for the ‘Spines and Shells’ open weekend. Entry is free but donations will be gratefully received. Visitors can meet hedgehogs, tortoises, birds of prey and other animals, and enjoy activities for all and on-site catering.