Wildlife and donkeys helped by flood-friendly tree planting scheme


A scheme to help reduce flooding and improve water quality in a Devon valley has been given a boost, after more than 3,500 young hedge plants and trees were planted by The Donkey Sanctuary.

Staff and volunteers from the international animal welfare charity planted a mixture of native species, including silver birch, field maple, hawthorn, blackthorn and hazel, to help restore and create new hedgerows at one of its sanctuaries near Sidmouth in East Devon.

Funded by South West Water’s Upstream Thinking project, and working in partnership with Devon Wildlife Trust, the scheme will reduce sediment and water runoff at the site, which will in turn improve water quality and help reduce the risk of flooding across the catchment of the nearby River Otter.

The sanctuary at Woods Farm, which is home to 400 donkeys and near to the charity’s international headquarters, is also a haven to a whole host of native wildlife species.

The wildlife-friendly hedges will provide a home to rare, threatened farmland birds such as linnet and yellowhammer. It is also hoped that it will provide a habitat for the rare brown hairstreak butterfly.

One of the UK’s rarest birds, the cirl bunting, has also been heard at the site, giving hope that the improved environment will help provide a safe place for them to thrive, whilst a colony of brown long-eared bats which roost in the farmhouse are sure to benefit, as they favour hunting and flying along hedgerows.

As well as providing additional food, shelter and nesting sites for a range of native wildlife, the charity’s resident donkeys will also benefit from more hedgerows. Donkeys love to eat woody shrubs and prickly vegetation, so the hedges will give them more to browse on, as well as providing them with shade and shelter from the elements.

Ruth Angell, Ecology and Conservation Manager at The Donkey Sanctuary, said: “The Upstream Thinking project has been a great opportunity for us to improve the landscape at this farm for donkeys and wildlife, as well as the environmental benefits of reduced flood risk and improved water quality.”

David Rolls, Working Wetlands Advisory Officer at Devon Wildlife Trust, added: “This planting scheme is another very positive intervention from the team at The Donkey Sanctuary, and will bring considerable wins for wildlife, water, soils and of course the resident donkeys.”

“It is particularly pleasing how these interventions will link up with positive changes neighbouring landowners are also carrying out in partnership with the Upstream Thinking Project and will bring considerable added value in terms of wildlife in the local area. It’s all very positive.”

Hedgerows are important for wildlife as they provide connectivity across the landscape, allowing animals to move between areas of suitable habitat.

The removal of hedgerows over the years not only disrupts and reduces the amount of wildlife, but also increases flood risk. The planting at Woods Farm will see the reinstatement of historic hedge lines, reducing the water run-off and providing benefits to wildlife and the resident donkeys.

The Donkey Sanctuary is a global leader for equine welfare, research and veterinary care. The charity operates programmes worldwide for animals working in agriculture, industry and transportation.