Traditional countryside skills benefits donkey welfare and supports wildlife at Sidmouth

Traditional countryside skills have come under the spotlight at an animal sanctuary in Sidmouth in a bid to benefit donkey welfare.

The Donkey Sanctuary’s ecology and conservation team, and a group of volunteers, recently teamed up to create secure enclosures for the resident donkeys and provide added enrichment for the herds.

The group has turned to the method of hedge-laying across many areas of the sanctuary, including the new arrivals unit at the Sidmouth-based charity, which houses the recently-arrived donkeys.

The aim is to promote ‘sympathetic’ management of the sanctuary’s hedgerow, to support wildlife, and create a ‘living fence’ to keep the donkeys safe.


Enrichment for donkeys from hedge laying.
Photo: The Donkey Sanctuary.

Pascal Bisson, apprentice ecology and conservation officer, said: “Hedge laying regenerates a hedge, giving it greater density and a robust base. This provides a more substantial windbreak for our donkeys and an ecological benefit to wildlife.

“The thickly-woven branches of a well-laid hedge offer an excellent habitat for birds, small mammals, insects and reptiles.

“Hedges grow back incredibly quickly from hedge laying. After a year a hawthorn hedge can send up stems two-feet tall.”

Marianne Steele, The Donkey Sanctuary CEO, said: “This is a great example of how our conservation work supports our native wildlife, while creating safe secure enclosures and enrichment for our donkeys.”

The charity said hedge laying was a seasonal job and carried out over the winter months when shrubs and trees are dormant, and birds had finished nesting.

Hand tools are used to partially cut existing shrubs and small trees through their stems at an angle several inches above the ground.

The plants are then laid over in the direction of the hedge, weaved together and secured with stakes. This soon encourages new growth to be produced, which regrows from the base to fill the gaps and create a strong and dense hedge.


The donkeys benefit from the hedge laying.
Photo: The Donkey Sanctuary.

A spokesman for the charity said: “Creating such hedges around the New Arrivals Unit also help with the area’s biosecurity while enhancing the area with a natural barrier.

“Over January and February of this year, The Donkey Sanctuary’s conservation team and their volunteers laid around 300 metres of hedges across sanctuary sites.”

He added: “As an added bonus, cuttings from the work, such as hazel and willow, have also been enjoyed by donkeys in the unit, as part of their enrichment.

“The enrichment provides greater opportunities for the donkeys to interact with their environment, make choices and to be more mentally and physically active.

“The traditional method of laying a hedge is a sympathetic management of a hedgerow, and provides a vitally important refuge for wildlife, as well as a strong secure natural fence when established.”


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