All of the visitor centres run by equine charity World Horse Welfare will remain closed to the public until February 2021, as a public safety precaution amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
All four of its Rescue and Rehoming Centres in Norfolk, Somerset, Lancashire and Aberdeenshire are affected, with their reopening planned for February (half-term) 2021.
“We so very much want to be able to welcome everyone back, but we need to put the safety of our staff and the public first,” CEO Roly Owers said.
“While we love having visitors on site, without doubt this adds additional risk in terms of keeping our Centres ‘Covid-secure’. The protective measures we would need to put in place would also inevitably involve taking valuable time from the yard and Visitor Centre staff to ensure measures were being followed.
“As we have recently been able to start rehoming our horses again, our yard staff are busy once more with rehabilitation work. The charity’s priority over the coming months has to be the rehabilitation and rehoming of our horses as each horse that is rehomed makes a space available for another animal in need. With all four farms currently at full capacity, making space available for the large number of welfare cases expected later in the year is vital,” Owers said.
Another challenge is that the measures needed to ensure social distancing and high levels of biosecurity would limit the number of visitors that could be welcomed at any one time and, when balanced against the additional costs, would make opening far less viable.
Zoe Clifford, of Penny Farm in Lancashire, said that staff members were missing having visitors, “many of whom we ordinarily see so regularly they feel more like family”.
“We know that our farm and our horses have a place in people’s hearts as well as the local community, but we have to put the safety of our staff and our visitors first. We will be keeping in touch with everyone through social media, our Facebook page will post updates and let people know about virtual events we will be holding.”
There would be a celebration when visitors were welcomed back to the farm next year, but in the meantime, the focus was on rescuing, rehabilitating and rehoming as many horses as possible, Clifford said.