To commemorate The Donkey Sanctuary’s 50th Anniversary, the Duchess of Cornwall took a tour around the charity’s international headquarters in Sidmouth – including a meet-and-greet with a herd of donkeys.

Today also marks Her Royal Highness’ 72nd birthday, and the sun certainly shone for the occasion as she was welcomed with a warm reception from local primary school children.

The Duchess embarked on a tour of the sanctuary with CEO Mike Baker, which set off towards our recently opened award-winning RHS Chelsea Flower Show garden.

The ‘Donkeys Matter’ garden scooped the coveted ‘People’s Choice Award’ in the Artisan category, and was designed to showcase the charity’s international work. The aim of the garden was to demonstrate how owning a donkey means access to clean, fresh water for some of the poorest and most vulnerable communities in the world.  

Mike Baker said: “The Duchess of Cornwall’s visit today was an opportunity to celebrate our landmark achievements over the last fifty years – from our foundation as a charity rescuing UK donkeys from neglect and abuse to a global leader for equine welfare, research and veterinary care. 

“It was also an opportunity to take stock of the massive challenges in a world where the suffering of animals remains abhorrent. I introduced Her Royal Highness to members of the International Coalition for Working Equids (ICWE), an organisation established to work with the World Organisation for Animal Health. ICWE is comprised of leading NGOs, including The Donkey Sanctuary, Brooke, SPANA and World Horse Welfare.” 

Her Royal Highness then proceeded to the Donkey-Facilitated Learning centre, one of six in the UK which offers programmes that bring together donkeys and vulnerable children and adults to develop life skills. 

After meeting a whole herd of donkeys and mules on the sanctuary’s Main Yard, the Duchess revealed a commemorative plaque to celebrate fifty years of The Donkey Sanctuary’s efforts to transform the lives of equines worldwide.

Her Royal Highness with Mike Baker and main yard donkeys
Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cornwall with a donkey on main yard
Commemorative plaque presented by HRH the Duchess of Cornwall

A royal tradition 

HRH The Duchess of Cornwall is not the first royal to pay a visit to our donkeys – in fact, The Donkey Sanctuary’s encounters with the Royal Family started when our founder Dr Elisabeth Svendsen was awarded an MBE in 1981. Over the years, we have enjoyed receiving members of the Royal Family including Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal and Their Royal Highnesses the Earl and Countess of Wessex.  

We even have resident donkey-royalty of sorts - in the form of miniature donkeys William and Harry, who were present to welcome the Duchess to the sanctuary today.

A lasting impression on a young foal - and a young boy

As part of Her Royal Highness’ visit, the Duchess of Cornwall named a three-week-old foal born here at the sanctuary.  

A picture of the newly named Sweet Pea was presented to the Duchess as a birthday present, along with a The Donkey Sanctuary edition of Monopoly. 

Perhaps the most surprising parting gift received by Her Royal Highness was an impromptu solo rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ by three-year-old Jacob. Jacob’s mother, Naomi, is part of The Donkey Sanctuary’s welfare team, and he was selected at random to present a bunch of flowers to Her Royal Highness – and spontaneously chose to present her with a lovely song, too.

HRH the Duchess of Cornwall presented with a picture of Sweet Pea
HRH the Duchess of Cornwall presented with a picture of Sweet Pea.
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