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Meet the Aberdeenshire solicitor making a difference for animals and wildlife

An Aberdeenshire solicitor has made it her mission to help animals and wildlife.
An Aberdeenshire solicitor has made it her mission to help animals and wildlife.

Hannah Darnell grew up “mesmorised” by nature and has made it her mission to help in any way she can.

The solicitor always felt like she wanted to do more to help animals and wildlife and since moving to Aberdeen in 2003 has become involved with many different charities.

She has raised thousands of pounds for Willows Animal Sanctuary, as well as fundraised to install an otter cub pool at the New Arc.

In September she also launched Wildlife First Response with her husband, Ryan, to provide people with the equipment needed to help animals and birds lying on the roadside.

The couple, having both worked in the police, volunteered for the New Arc by transporting injured wildlife to the centre.

The couple would also volunteer at New Arcs at the weekend by caring for the animals. Mrs Darnell was able to hand-feed a baby squirrel as well as other young animals.

Through their volunteering, they were able to work out what equipment was useful to keep in their car when assisting wild animals and birds.

Now they have created Wildlife First Response Kits that people can carry in their cars in case they come across an injured animal.

Mrs Darnell has been recognised for all her volunteering efforts and has been nominated for an Animal Star Award for a second time.

Last year she was nominated for Lockdown Hero of the Year for her fundraising efforts for Willows Animal Sanctuary. This year, she is up for the Animal Hero of the Year award, alongside the likes of Pen Farthing.

“I don’t do it for the recognition,” she said. “Although it’s nice to be recognised it’s the last thing on my mind.

“But the fact that somebody else has kind of noticed that I’m trying to make a difference, means something to me.”

Thousands raised for animal sanctuary

The 40-year-old was originally the animal ambassador for Willows Animal Sanctuary, however, once she qualified as a solicitor had to give up the role.

When she heard that Willows was in a crisis situation due to the pandemic she stepped up to save the sanctuary.

Mrs Darnell with some young lambs.

Willows is the largest equine, farm and domestic animal sanctuary in Scotland, caring for around 450 animals and birds. Before Covid, the rescue would allow visitors on site to meet the residents which would raise money to help look after them.

Lockdown meant that their income was severely cut and Mrs Darnell began holding online auctions to raise money to prevent the much-loved rescue from being forced to close their doors for good.

The sanctuary was dealt another blow after Storm Arwen wreaked havoc across their land – including destroying their brand new sheep shelter and ripping the roof off the cat hotel.

In December, she held her tenth auction and has raised over £35,000 for Willows since March 2020, which has helped the sanctuary continue looking after the animals and rebuild after the storm.

Mrs Darnell first became involved with Willows Sanctuary after rescuing four piglets that were being advertised on Facebook for meat.

‘A real sense of justice’

She fundraised to buy pig pens so they would have a comfortable home when they arrived at Willows and then picked them up to take them to the sanctuary.

She said: “They were babies about the size of cats, and I just couldn’t bear to think that was what was going to happen to them.

“I’ll often go up there and I feel they remember who I am because they come running over to me and they’ll sit for belly rubs.

Mrs Darnell with some of her rescue pigs at Willows Sanctuary.

“Now they’re big, they’re adult pigs, but they’re getting to live out their lives and that’s really important to me.”

Since then she has rescued two other pigs and one sheep that now all live at Willows.

The solicitor has always wanted to use the law to tie in with her passion for animals and wildlife.

She sits on the Scottish Steering Group for the UK Centre for Animal Law, which involved educating students on how to become involved in animal law.

This role has also included carrying out research projects for the centre and offering pro-bono work for charities.

In early 2021, Mrs Darnell also became the crime and advocacy advisor for Scottish Badgers.

She said: “I’ve got a real sense of justice about what’s right and what’s wrong and I think that probably comes in with the wildlife and nature because I feel like they are really persecuted.

“I think that’s why I wanted to get involved with Scottish Badgers because they’re a protected animal yet they’re persecuted nationally and internationally.

“I wanted to try and do something about that.”

In February, Mrs Darnell will begin a badger set surveying course so that in her free time she can respond to reports of wildlife crimes involving badgers.

If a set has been filled in or dug up she will be able to investigate the set and if there is a crime report it.

Inspiring others to become involved

When she is not working or volunteering, Mrs Darnell carries out beach cleans.

Some more photos from our beach clean archives. We separate what we find into piles so that anything that can be…

Posted by Wildlife First Response on Tuesday, 4 January 2022

Most recently she collected 30kg of rubbish from Blackdog Beach on Boxing Day.

After posting about it on social media a lady got in touch to say that it had inspired her and her son to start doing their own beach cleans.

“That means a lot to me,” she said. “If I can have an impact on other people and what other people are doing, and the same applies with the kits really.”

The Wildlife Response Kits were created to encourage people to take the first steps, urging people not to turn a blind eye to animals and birds lying on the roadside.

The kit comes with all the information a road user might need in case they come across an injured animal or bird lying on the roadside

“It would be great if this year people think they can do something more or different,” she said. “It could be small steps, it could be trying Veganuary where you go vegan for the month of January and just try it.

“Or it might be you decide you go and do a beach clean, you volunteer for a local charity, there are so many ways you can make a difference.”

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