A deadly parasite claiming the lives of baby hedgehogs is on the loose in Leatherhead.

According to the Wildlife Aid Foundation (WAF), based in Randalls Road, there is a new danger from the parasite, known as the thorny-headed worm, after two hedgehogs died suddenly at its centre this week with no apparent symptoms.

A post-mortem identified the presence of the worm in both animals - in the same week that wildlife hospitals in other parts of the country have also reported a high mortality rate in baby hedgehogs.

WAF veterinary nurse Lucy Kells said: "The thorny headed worm is more dangerous than an ordinary parasitic worm because it has a barbed head which means that it can anchor itself to the intestinal wall and pierce through it, causing pain, infection and severe illness to the animal.

"It is an extremely nasty parasite and if it continues to spread it could have a devastating effect on wildlife.

"Signs to look for are any hedgehogs acting out of the ordinary, young hedgehogs squealing in pain, or simply if you spot young hedgehogs out in the daytime."

Hedgehogs pick up the parasite simply by eating infected insects and WAF is in talks with scientists and veterinary experts about the potential threat posed to the pricky animals and other wildlife and how to combat it.

In July, WAF launched a campaign with politician Ann Widdecombe to introduce laws to help save the iconic British animal from extinction, and Simon Cowell, WAF’s founder, said this new threat could be "devastating" for a species already in decline.

He said: "The hedgehog population is already declining rapidly due to habitat loss and the impact of roads but this parasite could have an even more devastating effect if it spreads as quickly as it seems to be. "It has appeared from nowhere and become a hedgehog-killer almost overnight.

"There is no way to protect wildlife in the wild so further studies need to be carried out to find out exactly which species are at risk, and to hopefully find ways we can fight back against this parasite."