Rural Fire Service, Wildlife Information Rescue and Education Service and Hunter Wildlife Rescue receive Newcastle Permanent grant

RECOVERING: Kristie Newton of WIRES and Casey Hill of Hunter Wildlife Rescue with rescued blue tongue lizards. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers
RECOVERING: Kristie Newton of WIRES and Casey Hill of Hunter Wildlife Rescue with rescued blue tongue lizards. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

After bushfires, heatwaves and smoke - the last thing frontline bushfire responders needed this year was a pandemic.

Hunter Wildlife Rescue president Audrey Koosman said rescuers were put under a huge amount of stress trying to save sick and injured wildlife during the summer bushfires, and now had to deal with COVID-19 protocols, which made usual operations difficult.

The organisation also previously had all its education materials printed for free, but the printing business it used has had to tighten its belt due to the financial losses caused by the pandemic.

"It's been a very tough year," Ms Koosman said. "The bushfires put a big strain on the group. It was horrendous - we were finding more dead animals than alive.

"I'm the disaster coordinator so I was having to say when we would stop. It's extremely hard to stop when you know there's more animals out there.

"The members were under a lot of stress. We had an extreme overload of animals.

"Now the lockdown has made things difficult as well."

Safe to say, the group was in need of a boost, and that has now come in the form of a donation from Newcastle Permanent.

The Perm's employees chose NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) and Wildlife Information Rescue and Education Service (WIRES) as the beneficiaries of a combined $30,000 grant from its staff donation program.

WIRES, which doesn't operate in the Hunter, chose to use half the money to build a WIRES Glider Flight Rehabilitation Aviary in Clarence Valley and give the other half to Hunter Wildlife Rescue, which will use it to pay for training and education materials.

Kristie Newton of WIRES, Newcastle Permanent's Katie Eastall and Casey Hill of Hunter Wildlife Rescue. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Kristie Newton of WIRES, Newcastle Permanent's Katie Eastall and Casey Hill of Hunter Wildlife Rescue. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

"Our rehabilitation facilities are mostly located in the backyards and properties of our volunteers across the Hunter, which house a wide range of at-risk rescued wildlife," Ms Koosman said.

"Therefore, providing comprehensive training and education on how to care for different species is vital for our volunteers.

"It was a lovely gesture for WIRES to split it with us. It has boosted us all up after being very down."

WIRES CEO Leanne Taylor said the donation would allow volunteers to rehabilitate the many gliders in care - a "critical component" of the pre-release process.

RFS will divide the funds across three regions affected by the fires, including the Hunter. The funds will help fix damaged equipment and ensure brigades and volunteers are prepared for the upcoming fire season.

NSW RFS District Manager Superintendent Viki Campbell said the donation would be beneficial for members' safety.

"This funding will go directly towards purchasing vital equipment that improves the capability of our station," she said.

Newcastle Permanent CEO Bernadette Inglis commended her team for the donations.

"The bushfires early this year were devastating," she said. "It is wonderful to see our people rally behind their local communities and present these worthy charities with much needed funding."