Donkey Sanctuary’s Contribution to Conservation: Rare Flower Saved

by Jennifer

In an earnest endeavor to preserve one of the UK’s most endangered farmland wildflowers, the Donkey Sanctuary near Sidmouth has enlisted the assistance of its resident rescue donkeys.


The small-flowered catchfly, a delicate species once abundant in field margins, has suffered a drastic decline, vanishing from 70% of its traditional habitat due to the proliferation of intensive farming practices and the widespread use of herbicides.

Adorned with delicate pinkish-white petals and covered in adhesive hairs, the small-flowered catchfly now clings to survival in only a handful of coastal sites in Wales and south-west England.

In a bid to reverse this alarming trend, the Donkey Sanctuary, an esteemed international animal welfare charity, has taken action by sowing 20,000 seeds of the catchfly on its premises near Sidmouth in Devon.

Come spring, the sanctuary’s donkeys will be led across the seeded plots, a process known as “treading in.” The gentle pressure exerted by their hooves will aid in embedding the seeds into the soil, enhancing the chances of successful germination.

These seeds have been strategically sown alongside other indigenous wildflowers and grains, fostering a biodiverse landscape capable of sustaining threatened farmland bird species such as the skylark, yellowhammer, and linnet.

Ruth Angell, the dedicated ecology and conservation manager at The Donkey Sanctuary, emphasized the significance of biodiversity in nurturing a robust environment capable of supporting rare species and the sanctuary’s resident donkey herds.

“Our donkeys will not only benefit from the physical activity of walking over these plots but will also enjoy valuable one-on-one time with our grooms,” Ms. Angell remarked, underlining the holistic approach to conservation embraced by the sanctuary.

She further elaborated on the sanctuary’s multifaceted conservation efforts, which encompass woodland, hedge, and grassland management aimed at enhancing habitats for both wildlife and donkeys.

The initiative to safeguard the small-flowered catchfly forms part of Plantlife’s ambitious Colour in the Margins project, which aims to bolster rare field plants nationwide. This project operates within the broader framework of the Back from the Brink program, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, with a mission to rescue over 20 threatened species from the brink of extinction and bolster 200 more through 19 projects across England.

Cath Shellswell, manager for the Colour in the Margins project at Plantlife, expressed gratitude for the collaboration with partners like the Donkey Sanctuary, highlighting the pivotal role played by such alliances in the concerted effort to rescue these critically endangered wildflowers from oblivion.


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