Here at The Donkey Sanctuary we strive to make the world a better place for donkeys and mules but our sites also offer sanctuary to many other species.

We look after acres of flower-filled grassland, beautiful woodland and rolling farmland, home to everything from bats to birds, butterflies and mammals.

To best look after the wildlife at The Donkey Sanctuary we need to know where it is, in what number and what condition our land is in. To do this our Ecology and Conservation team run surveys throughout the year, mainly on the birds, bats and butterflies seen across our sites.

Birds, like bats and butterflies, are one of the key wildlife groups considered to be excellent indicators of environmental health and habitat quality.

Surveys for 2021 are now in full swing and over the next few weeks, we'll bring you some highlights of what our team discovered while surveying our Devon sites.

Winter bird survey

We'll start now with our winter bird surveys (January and February) to count overwintering species, and a breeding bird survey (March to August) to record species and their breeding activities, such as defending territories, nest building, feeding young, arrival of summer migrants, and departure of winter migrants.

The team survey set transects (routes) once a month, counting and identifying the species seen as they walk, and noting behaviour such as singing, nest building and carrying food.

Transects cover a range of habitats including donkey paddocks, haylage fields, scrub, woodland, woodland edge, and hedgerows, which offer food and shelter to birds (and donkeys).

And our survey sites proved attractive for birds with more than 50 species seen including Barn Owls, woodpeckers, warblers and sparrowhawks.

Some 13 of the species spotted are categorised ad 'red list', meaning that they are considered in need of urgent action. These included the tiny marsh tie, sulphur-coloured yellowhammer and long-billed woodland resident the woodcock.

Other species recorded on site but outside the surveys included the rare cirl bunting, peregrine falcon and dipper.

    Freedom to roam donkeys Sidmouth
    Wildflowers in meadow
    Butterfly on thistle in meadow
    Providing wild habitat areas around the sanctuary to encourage wildlife to live alongside donkeys.

    What did the survey reveal?

    The survey revealed that house sparrows were the most commonly seen species last year. The habitats at the farms offer good resources for these species since they favour hedgerows, scattered trees and bushes, rough ground with thistles and other seeding-bearing plants.

    Covid-19 had an impact and reduced the amount of surveys we could carry out. But the pandemic also provided an unexpected benefit to our birds. At Slade House Farm, where grass mowing along the walkways and verges stopped due to lockdown, bird counts in June were more than double the number recorded last year:

    • 2020: 422
    • 2019: 193

    Wildlife and conservation

    Helping to enrich the lives of donkeys