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Posted on Aug 4 2022 by Fiona Bailey

A man whose house and garden has become overrun with tortoises when pet owners no longer wanted them has found them a new home within the confines of the Essex site of St Andrew’s Healthcare.

Nicholas Skittrell began looking after one tortoise more than eight years ago and is now responsible for seven reptiles, forcing him to seek more space to look after them in.

Living close to the site of St Andrew’s Healthcare on Pound Lane he spotted a piece of wasteland which was not used by the hospital so he got in touch with staff to see if they would be interested in him building an enclosure for the animals.

The 55-year-old said: “I rehomed my first tortoise in 2014 after someone I know was moving house and no longer wanted Doris, so I agreed to rehome him. Sadly, this is quite a common problem as many people don’t realise they do require quite a bit of looking after.

“Despite what the majority think, they don’t hibernate, they have to be kept at around 30 degrees at all times day and night, summer and winter and they usually live for about 120 years. Not only that, when they’re fully grown they can grow up to 1 metre in length and weight as heavy as 80kg.

“Now I look after seven tortoises it was getting a bit much at home. The males and females don’t always get on so I had to split my garden up and I was running out of space.”

Ricky Taylor who is the Asset Strategy Lead within the Estates & Facilities team, was eager to help Nicholas when he heard of his tortoise dilemma. So he set about establishing a license with legal colleagues in order to provide some further land, giving the reptiles and their owner full access.

Ricky said: “When this email flew into my inbox I knew we needed to help and it made perfect sense, this is exactly what the partnerships and promotions workstream is all about within out new Strategy. We had the land to spare, so why not utilise it this way? We put forward the idea to Finance & Contracts and I’m pleased to say they were only too happy to approve it as everyone recognised that this perfectly aligns with our charitable purpose but as patients can have access and interact with the animals there could be huge potential therapeutic benefits.”

Ricky and Legal colleagues had a license drafted for the land so Nicholas and his creep of tortoises can occupy the patch of land at the back of the site. Together, with a patient from Danbury ward, Nicholas has worked hard to build a large enclosure for the pets.

Nicholas added: “It’s been wonderful working with the patient who I believe has got a lot out of working with the tortoises. He has helped me build their enclosure, fencing, sheds and has even used his pyrography skills to write their names on the wooden plaques so each one has their name on their home.”