MITZI, the orphaned baby hedgehog, has been surrounded by love and affection during a visit to our specialist college for autistic young people and adults.

Dedicated hedgehog rescuer Maxine Bellwood brought Mitzi into Thornbeck College, based at our Newton Aycliffe site.

Our learners clearly loved meeting the prickly little creature and plans are now underway for a woodland area in the college grounds to become a place where rescued hedgehogs can be released back into the wild.

Maxine, who runs the Prickly Haven hedgehog rescue service, said: “It was lovely to see the smiles on the faces of the learners when they saw how adorable Mitzi is close-up. A lot of them wouldn’t ever have the chance to see a hedgehog, let alone be able to stroke one.”

Mitzi weighed just four ounces, and could fit on the palm of Maxine’s hand, when she was rescued last November.

A lovely old lady called to say she’d seen this teeny-weeny hedgehog walking across her grass. We think she’d been abandoned by her mum and wouldn’t have survived for much longer.

Maxine placed Mitzi in a special vivarium to warm her up, fed her, and gradually nursed her back to health. Now, she’ll soon be ready to be released back into the wild.

“She’s doing really well and eats like no-one’s business,” added Maxine, who currently has 14 hedgehogs in her care.

Ahead of Mitzi’s visit, learners at Thornbeck had been engaged in a project learning about hedgehog habitats and what they like to eat. Our college’s maintenance group also made hedgehog houses out of recycled material and wooden arrows to create a woodland walk within the grounds, which helped them to develop their vocational skills.

Lee Simpson, quality manager at the college, said: “It was a great opportunity to introduce the learners to wildlife and they’ve clearly enjoyed finding out more about hedgehogs and meeting Mitzi.

A lot of the learners love animals and it’s a way of enriching their experience with us. It’s something we want to carry on, and we’re investigating the potential with Maxine for the college grounds to become a release site for rescued hedgehogs. Hopefully, this is just the start.

As well as meeting a real-life hedgehog, our learners also enjoyed a surprise visit from the NEAS mascot – a giant white hedgehog called Snowdrop.

Maxine, whose son Christopher, 20, attends the college, said: “NEAS has been an immense source of support to us. They get the best out of Christopher, and he loves coming to the college.”

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