A HARD-PRESSED wildlife rescue centre has warned it could close by Christmas because it is short of cash and overwhelmed by the largest number of patients in its 24-year history.

Oak and Furrows has been struggling to cope with the increase in sick, injured and orphaned creatures which started earlier in the year.

The number of hedgehogs in the hospital already stands at 127 and it is expected that by the end of December some 5,000 animals will have been treated during the year – 1,000 more than in 2016.

Chairman of the trustees Robin Thompson said: "It is a crisis none of the team wants, but with currently 260 - and rising daily - sick and injured animals, resulting in costs soaring to horrendous heights, we have no other alternative than to appeal to the wonderful public in the region to help us overcome this challenge.”

If they could raise just under £30,000 it would allow them time to secure more funding, plan appeals and rebuild the financial structure to meet the demand.

The target is to raise £50,000 by February.

The centre, based at Blakehill Farm nature reserve, normally deals with far fewer patients during the winter, meaning food, treatment and other costs are lower.

"One of the big reasons for the rising number of hedgehogs is that three other rescue centres in the region have had to close their doors to more because they are full,” said Robin.

“So people are travelling long distances to bring them to us because our reputation is that we never turn any sick animals away.

“This in turn of course puts huge pressure on the centre's infrastructure, with the training room about to be turned into a treatment room because we have no other treatment buildings available

"It is a vicious circle. We want to help them all, but in turn the pressures on the organisation have become horrendous. It is also something we plan to address.”

The charity is currently preparing for a fundraiser in Cricklade on December 2 and its patron, poet Pam Ayres has pledged to donate the £3,000 fee she will be paid for taking part in the Christmas edition of Celebrity Mastermind.

Fellow patron Daphne Neville is also due to be at the Bishops Walk Christmas celebration in Cirencester on December 16 with her otter Rudi to help raise funds.

Robin said he hoped local firms would follow the example of Nationwide, which had become a supporter and would be encouraging staff to raise cash towards the appeal over the next few weeks.

People in the area were also turning up at the centre with money.

The RSPCA’s North Wiltshire branch handed over £500 last week to help with the costs. Development manager Richard Clowes said the board of directors had been unanimous in deciding to help when the centre asked for a donation.

“Quite a number of the calls received by our welfare inspector regarding threatened or injured wildlife are passed on to Oak and Furrows, who do a wonderful job of rescuing & caring for local animals,” he said.

“It is critical that charities like ours pull together in times of need, particularly when we are working for a shared cause.”

The centre deals with all kinds of wildlife from tiny voles and shrews to foxes, deer and swans.

More information on supporting the centre is available online at oandf.co.uk or by calling 01793 751412.