Belfast Telegraph

UK Website Of The Year

A squawk on the wild side with Debbie Doolittle, animal rescuer

By Linda Stewart

Published 09/04/2016

Debbie Nelson and the seagull she rescued
Debbie Nelson and the seagull she rescued
Debbie Nelson and the seagull she rescued
The seagull she rescued

She's been saving injured wild animals since she was a child - and last year she raced to the rescue of more than a thousand creatures in peril.

Debbie Nelson has had a lifelong passion for helping stricken wild animals and birds, and has set up her own wildlife rescue centre at her home near Antrim called Debbie Doolittle's Wild Life.

Last year she rescued 1,089 animals and released 843 of them after they had recovered.

"I get around 600 baby animals in the spring and I can have 40 or 50 baby birds on any one day. When they hear you coming it's like: 'Mummy, feed me'," she said.

Animals have been rescued from roof spaces, stables, drains, industrial buildings, car engines, boiler houses, chimneys and from behind bathroom panels.

Debbie also takes in animals which have been brought to the vet and need time and space to recover.

If they don't recover they have to be euthanised - a policy of the centre.

"We don't keep animals that can't be returned to the wild, they will be put to sleep," she said.

"We are against keeping them in cages."

On Tuesday she rescued five birds from across Northern Ireland to be nursed back to health, including a gull that had become caught in razor wire.

On Wednesday she collected an injured pigeon found at Pizza Hut in Glengormley; a swan trapped in a Belfast sub-station; five baby birds handed into a vet's at Hillsborough, a baby rabbit saved from a cat in Warrenpoint, and a fox cub taken in by vets.

Debbie estimates she has been rescuing wildlife for about 30 years. Her dad runs boat trips to the Copeland Islands from Donaghadee and she would bring home gulls she had found on the beach suffering from botulism and nurse them back to health.

She soon earned a reputation for rescuing wildlife and the animals began to flood in.

"The children in school realised that I could rescue birds so I would come home from school and find shoeboxes with little birds that needed help - it's just gone on from there," she explained.

Debbie worked and volunteered in various environmental groups, but in 2014 decided to set up her own animal rescue centre at her home located just outside Antrim.

"We converted the premises so we have a mini wildlife hospital. A lot of baby animals are in the house over the spring and summer and a lot of hutches are donated to us," she said.

"It can be very busy and you don't know what's coming in. I am one of the few people who takes in pigeons, as they are seen as vermin, but they can be real characters. It's the same with crows and gulls.

"I have crows, seagulls, baby bunnies, baby doves... I have 27 hedgehogs at the minute and I am hoping to get 23 of them released back into the wild as soon as the weather changes."

One of this week's rescues was the lesser black-backed gull found tangled in razor wire in Belfast's Docklands, possibly swept up in the draft from a lorry. The seabird received deep cuts, but amazingly suffered no broken bones and will probably make a full recovery.

"We got a call from a lady who got our number from the RSPB," Debbie explained.

"It was trapped in a big loop of razor wire. It was so high up they couldn't get it, it was about eight feet high on the fence."

"I have to admit on first appearance I thought it would have to be put to sleep. Its wings were cut, they were bent backwards, there was blood everywhere. But we got a ladder and managed to get up and get the bird off the wire and once we got it home and cleaned it up we found there were no broken bones.

"It was up walking around in the evening, it was absolutely unbelievable."

Anyone interested in supporting Debbie's work or taking up her educational programme can find out more at

Belfast Telegraph

Read More

From Belfast Telegraph