Sue Schwar has spent over 30 years ministering to, and caring for, sick and injured
creatures. Ardent animal-lover, Sue, started South Essex Wildlife Hospital (SEWH) many
years ago as a response to the increasing demand for her services.
Based in Orsett, SEWH is the only facility of its kind in the area and covers Essex, East
London and parts of Kent. It is open 7 days a week, receives around 100 calls a day and, as
its policy is never to turn away sick, injured or orphaned animals, it often has more than 300
patients at any one time!
SEWH is staffed by three 3 full time staff including an onsite vet, four part time staff and a
very important team of dedicated volunteers.
It also works closely with the RSPCA and other organisations providing a local and dedicated
facility for rescued Essex wildlife.
Southend Community News caught up with Sue at the tail end of Storm Dennis - a busy time
- to find out more.
M.T.T . Is your love of animals a life-long preoccupation? Or how did you first become
S.S. I was very lucky as a child to have ponies and their demanding care put me in good stead
for the dedication and commitment needed for all other animals. As it turns out, having
started with the biggest animals, I found looking after smaller ones reasonably
straightforward although some of their needs are very complex.
M.T.T Do you have/need (!!??) any pets at home?
S.S. I currently have two rescued dogs but don’t feel the need to own any other species as I
spend all day looking after so many others.
M.T.T How many patients do you have at the moment? What creature makes up the highest
proportion of your animal casualties? What is the most common reason for an animal
to come into SEWH?
S.S. We have around 300 animals at the moment, but this number will increase dramatically
during the spring and summer. The majority of animals would be birds and sadly the
most common cause of an animal needing our help would be cat predation. We get
more things caught by cats than everything else combined.
M.T.T. From what you see and experience, are the Brits still a nation of animal lovers?
S.S I think we are certainly a nation of animal keepers and I think the majority of those
animals are very much loved. There is an increase of animal abuse and this is very
worrying, but I think also we have become more aware of this due to social media
attention and the widespread use of phones with cameras. People can now prove what
animals are subjected to by their abusers and rapidly put that information into the
public domain. Aside from deliberate cruelty, many animals suffer neglect due to their
owners not being able to care for them or being unaware of their pets’ needs.
M.T.T. What are three key things the public could do to assist the creatures who share our
S.S. Just think about what impact your actions have, e.g, check for hedgehogs and frogs
before strimming and birds’ nests before bush or tree cutting. Many animals get caught
up in netting, are poisoned or injured by litter, all avoidable hazards. Consider building a
“catio” if you have a pet cat as they will be much safer. We get a considerable number
of cats that have been run over, shot or poisoned and containing them in a catio also
helps to protect wildlife, especially birds during nesting season. If you see an animal
who you are concerned for please give us a call for help and advice.
M.T.T. Do you have a favourite species?
S.S. It is so difficult to pick a favourite as they all have their own endearing qualities and
such diverse natures.
M.T.T. What’s the happiest/most fulfilling thing about the job? And what is the saddest?
S.S. Seeing an animal you have helped return to the wild is obviously the motivation for
what our charity does. People often assume the saddest part is having to put a badly
injured animal that can’t be saved to sleep but, relieving an animal from suffering is
actually an act of kindness. It’s what they have endured that makes me sad.
Experiencing ignorance and apathy towards our diminishing wildlife and its vital habitat
is the most upsetting part of the work we do.
M.T.T. How is the hospital supported?
S.S. It is mainly public donations that keep us going, additionally corporate support and
legacies are extremely helpful. We would not be able to continue our work without this
support. We are also a part of the Essex Lottery Scheme and the Co-op Community
Fund. We have an Amazon wish list where people can gift us with much needed items
for the hospital. We are a part of the easy fundraising scheme and the Amazon Smile
M.T.T. If you can imagine having an alternative career, what would it be?
S.S. I worked for the police for 25 years and had this not taken every hour of my day I guess
I would still be doing that, but I did quite like the idea of being a fighter pilot many years
ago! If I had to choose a current career, I think I would be a gardener. I would hate to be
stuck in an office and I love nature and getting my hands dirty.
M.T.T. If you could invite any four people (alive or dead) to a dinner party, who would you
S.S. David Bowie as he was such an icon and god of music. Tutankhamun to ask what really
did happen to him and how did they build those pyramids and tombs. Daniel Craig to
persuade him to stay in his role as James Bond. My friend and sidekick at the hospital,
Sharon Davies. We have the same sense of humour and working with her makes the job
much more fun.
M.T.T. What would you like to be remembered for?
S.S. The charity is obviously very important to me and I would hate for it to die with me. As
far as being remembered, just a person who cared would be more than enough.
M.T.T. What’s the best thing about living and working around the Thames Estuary?
S.S. It is a fantastic area for biodiversity, so the green spaces and varied wildlife habitats are
an important part of our heritage that should be preserved and not destroyed by
Thank you !