In the late 80’s I met a remarkable couple. We were accepting cheques for our respective charities. I was chairman of FSID, the cot death charity and they ran a Wildlife Hospital from their estate house in Aylesbury.
They were Sue and Les Stocker and we hit it off immediately. I visited them and was astonished to find that their garden was clearly much bigger on the inside, given the amount of sheds, pens and runs they had crammed in to further their mission to save and rehabilitate injured and sick wildlife.
The charity they founded expanded to be the Aylesbury Wildlife Hospital, better known as Tiggywinkles, in honour of hundreds of hedgehogs the trust has saved and treated.
Since then I have been privileged to support their work and see Les evolve from being an accountant who couldn’t understand why a vet couldn’t help an injured hedgehog in 1978, so cared for it himself.
He then set about trying to ensure that wildlife had the same survival chance as our domestic animals. Thirty some years later his name is celebrated worldwide.
He has an MBE for services to wildlife and in 2002 was made an honorary associate of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons – an extraordinary acknowledgement by the veterinary profession of the countless techniques and procedures that Les discovered, invented and improvised over tens of years to achieve his passion of helping our wildlife to survive in a world that we humans make increasingly hostile for them.
And Les was a robust and practical animal lover who knew and understood that his patients were not always going to appreciate his efforts on their behalf. Anyone who has tried to shampoo their cat will understand.
I once helped him release a swan that had been injured by hooks and lead but had been restored to majestic health.
I carried it to its new lake in a ‘swan jacket’ with its sinewy neck wrapped gently around my shoulders and then saw it preen and sail away. It was a sensation I shall never forget.
Les got that feeling every day. I write about him because he is an exact contemporary whose life ended far too soon suddenly last week. He will be massively missed by all who loved and respected him especially his wife and son, Colin, who will carry on his excellent work.
Les Stocker was the best of men, a modest gentle genius.