Wildlife thrives as equine charity remains closed to the public

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The Donkey Sanctuary's grounds have become a riot of colour as nature blooms in its wild spaces.
The Donkey Sanctuary’s grounds have become a riot of colour as nature blooms in its wild spaces. © The Donkey Sanctuary

An equine charity has been transformed into a wildlife haven during the Covid-19 lockdown, the result of less disturbance as facilities are closed to the public.

Wildlife has thrived under lockdown at The Donkey Sanctuary’s international headquarters in Sidmouth, as paths, walkways and verges have become a riot of pinks, purples, blues and yellows after wildflowers reaped the benefit of quieter conditions.

The charity attracts about 400,000 visitors a year, but with it temporarily closed to visitors because of the coronavirus pandemic, grass cutting along many of the access paths, verges and walkways has been reduced, allowing nature to bloom in its ‘wild spaces’.

The abundance of wildflowers, such as chamomile, ox-eye daisy, vetch, cornflower and poppy has provided pollinating insects such as bees, moths and hoverflies with a spring and summertime boost, as well as a notable increase in a host of other insects. This, in turn, has attracted more birds and bats who devour many of the biting insects that cause much irritation to the resident donkeys at this time of year.

More than 30 wildflower species were seen across the site when staff from The Donkey Sanctuary’s Conservation and Ecology team visited in mid-May, with further indicator species’ surveys bearing this out in the numbers recorded.

“The relaxed management of the grounds has meant wildflowers have been able to flower and seed, and grasses have been left long enough for them to support the entire life cycles of a range of invertebrates.” © The Donkey Sanctuary

The findings have provided food for thought. Not only does the display of abundant wildflowers make the sanctuary look beautiful, but it also provides a haven for wildlife. At a time of widespread biodiversity crisis, a simple habitat improvement is hugely important, not only to the thriving plants and animals, but in providing a sense of well-being to both people and the resident donkeys who benefit from the enriched environment.

Ruth Angell, Ecology and Conservation Manager at The Donkey Sanctuary said: “The relaxed management of the grounds has meant wildflowers have been able to flower and seed, and grasses have been left long enough for them to support the entire life cycles of a range of invertebrates.

Paths, walkways and verges have bloomed during the lockdown.
Paths, walkways and verges at the Sidmouth charity have bloomed during the lockdown. © The Donkey Sanctuary

“It has been really interesting for us to see how much wildlife and diversity our walkways can support following just a few months of less disturbance. We are now looking at ways to re-introduce management so that this can continue, and both wildlife and people can enjoy the benefits.”

The Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth remains temporarily closed to visitors, along with the charity’s other UK sites. The safety of visitors and staff is paramount, and with numerous entry points, it would be difficult to safely manage the number of people coming in and to encourage responsible social distancing.

But the situation is being constantly monitored on a local, regional and national level, and when it is safe to do so, the sanctuaries will be re-opened and visitors welcomed back.

Although the sanctuary is closed, its dedicated grooms are still ensuring the resident donkeys and mules continue to receive the highest level of care, and visitors can enjoy their own virtual live catch-up with the donkeys, by logging onto the charity’s webcams.

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