THEY say that dogs are man's best friends, but for one woman a true mate is a little more prickly.

Maureen Williams, from Tillington, has been voluntarily caring for hedgehogs for the past five years - and, from the number of visitors dropping by her home this winter, word seems to be getting around.

Although she has never advertised or set up anything 'official', she claims that the animals continue to find their way to her home.

She cares for them during winter months or, as happened this year, when there are adverse weather conditions.

"It all started off with one small hedgehog in the road about five years ago," she said.

"A lady stopped the car when we were driving by Burghill Golf Club and told us to be careful. Me being me – I love animals – stopped the car and picked it up, took it back and popped it into a field.

"We found we had one or two around here and occasionally we saw a small hedgehog so I put the odd bit of food out.

"Then my son was down for Christmas and he said we must either have a weasel or hedgehog outside because there were footprints in the snow.

"So I went outside and found that there was a hedgehog so I took him in and started to feed it cat food and dog biscuits.

"They just continue to arrive now. Somehow or other they do seem to find me. But I love having them."

Maureen usually cares for around eight hedgehogs each year but has had 10 "guests" in 2014.

They live in cages in stables just behind her home, are fed cat biscuits and mealworms and sleep on sheep skin.

Maureen will release her hedgehogs into the countryside from April.

"They have a life of luxury," Maureen added. "But it keeps me happy."