A Pet Is Not Just For Lockdown
Since the Covid-19 pandemic arrived on our doorsteps the effects have of course been immense.
Something that many of us turned to, including myself, during these troubled times was our nature, our countryside, our wildlife and also those domestic animals that share and enrich our daily lives.
The increase in those of us taking on the responsibility of dogs, cats and small animals such as rabbits, hamsters and guinea pigs has been considerable. More than 3 million households have acquired a pet since March 2020 with some sadly coming from unscrupulous breeders who cashed in on the increased demand. We all hope that the decisions we made to take on a new pet were well considered and not a spur of the moment choice to help us cope during those dark days of lockdown.
Sadly animal sanctuaries such as the Raystede Centre For Animal Welfare in Ringmer, East Sussex have noticed a rise in animals being handed in since restrictions lifted as some owners are no longer able to manage now that their lives are returning to some kind of normality. Perhaps the term “a dog is not just for Christmas” should also now be accompanied by the line “a pet is not just for lockdown”.
This week I took a trip to the Raystede Centre to not only enjoy a morning at the sanctuary but also to understand the work that they have been doing throughout the pandemic and the pressures they now encounter as they endeavour to look after the varied and increasing number of animals in their care.
On a chilly autumn November day my visit coincided with the sanctuary gearing up for a range of Christmas fundraising events and so the timing was always going to be the calm before the storm. I liked that!
To further that feeling of tranquility, those pesky noisy kids were all at school (sorry parents), rain was in the air and the government had recently imposed restrictions across the UK re an outbreak of Avian Flu meaning the aviaries and parts of the sanctuary were out of bounds even though the Raystede centre themselves were not directly affected.
Planning Your Visit
In order to visit you need to register online and to arrive during a half hour time slot. The Raystede Centre is free to visit – a subject that is often discussed given that the sanctuary requires an incredible £5,495 per day in order to function.
From speaking to one of the welcoming and excellent staff on duty the reason for the free entry is simply because visitors are not guaranteed to see animals. This is not a zoo – it is an animal welfare sanctuary where every care is taken for animals that have been neglected, abused or exploited and who are here for rescue and rehabilitation. In other words the animals are not performing monkeys!
After considering this I very much understood this decision. You can only imagine if they slapped a tenner on the entry gate and little Timmy and Tabitha did not see their favourite cuddly animal. Can you imagine the uproar, more from the parents than the kids who would in this day and age probably insist on their money back.
In my opinion the Raystede Centre is wise to keep it free and hope that the penny drops…. both metathorically and at one of the collection points.
Booths Not Kiosks
Arriving into Raystede there is ample free parking (well there was on a quiet November day). Two really lovely friendly ladies greeted me at the welcome kiosk with beaming smiles although I was soon jokingly ticked off when I referred to their cabin as a kiosk…. it was a state of the art booth!
These happy welcoming ladies checked my online registration, handed me a map, a few pieces of promotional literature then gave me a couple of tips (not on the horses but about the horses) and I was on my way.
The Raystede Cafe
First stop was the busy Raystede Cafe serving from 10am to 4pm every day a variety of coffees. teas and delicious cakes as well as breakfasts and lunches. As you would expect the food is responsibly and locally sourced and enjoyed in lovely bright, fresh surroundings with a new outside eating terrace for when the weather is a little better than it was when I visited!
Every penny spent here helps them look after the animals in their care meaning that the plum and apple crumble that I simply had to try, tastes even better than it already is. There is also an excellent WIFI service which puts my local Costa Coffee in Haywards Heath to shame!
So having got my bearings it was time to have a wander. First stop would have been the aviary had it not been for that darn Avian Flu restriction so it was on to the cattery where one of the lovely staff was cleaning out a couple of cages with two mischievous black cats watching on and occasionally pouncing on anything that moved or was removed from their hopefully temporary home! I have always loved cats – they just do what they want and look after themselves…. often the best way to be.
The Learning Garden
Next up was the Yurt and Learning Garden where regular events take place for up to 30 children who will receive age appropriate learning activities and challenges in a wonderful enclosed and safe environment. This is great for school parties or even small groups celebrating birthdays or special occasions. One subject I was interested to ask about was whether the subject of littering is explained to children. I was pleased to hear it is mentioned. This continues to be one of my biggest issues I have with the “Great” British public when I see bottles, cans, sweet wrappers and crisp packets along country lanes and out in our glorious countryside. Then then are our beaches!!
During the darkest days of Covid, the sanctuary was closed and as a result there were no visitors. This had a devastating impact on the sanctuary but it also led to some interesting changes with hidden benefits. For example they used to feed the wildfowl with corn that was provided to visitors on site however with no visitors the birds reverted to foraging for food naturally which is not a bad thing. With this in mind, the Raystede Centre have now stopped offering corn and have insisted visitors do not bring picnics in case leftovers are fed to the animals.
With no picnics this meant less litter to clear up and less litter being blown or thrown into pens for animals to dangerously consume. Seems like a win win to me and something good to actually come from 2020!
Following the route though some wonderfully crazy and colourful wall art I soon passed the goats, sheep and the cheeky alpacas who were having a lay in before heading through a dark small animal viewing tunnel which would excite many a young child!
It was then that I arrived at the rather luxurious rabbit pens! Now if I was a rabbit I would most definitely want to live here!
Each pen had a three tiered mini mansion (I think that’s a better description than a hutch!), tasty treats and water on tap, a concrete terrace opening out into a garden area complete with tunnels and space to do what rabbits do – no not those kind of things. I mean hop around and nibble on grass and burrow and explore ! There is a story about each rabbit and this is explained on the fence to their abode although given the luxury I would have expected electric gates.
Many of the inhabitants had sadly lost their companion meaning that they were lonely and needed to be paired up again. That is a process that can take time and patience in order to introduce them to a new partner. Some people don’t have that patience for what is a high maintenance animal and so…. they end up here at Raystede.
Mockingbirds & Turkey's
From the lapin of luxury (thats one for the French speakers amongst us), I continued past some huts housing poultry and in particular chickens who were perhaps saved from death following a stint in one of those disgusting battery farms. I find it incredible they still exist in 2021 – the farms not chickens! All of the chickens at the Raystede Centre are available to be rehomed and do you know I would be so tempted if my personal situation allowed.
With Christmas approaching I did wonder if there were any turkeys on site and indeed there are although of course like the chickens they were locked away due to the restrictions.
The resident male who was indeed a turkey and not a Mockingbird was called Gregory Peck and this old boy was saved from a turkey meat farm some years back. There are also a number of females who keep Gregory on his toes including Mistletoe who is a sprightly 14 years of age although I am not sure there is much kissing going on even at this time of year!
The lake was sadly closed off when I visited due to the Government induced Avian Influenza Protection Zone however I could see from a distance some of the waterfowl including ducks, geese, swans and coots. I later learned about another surprising issue that adds to the pressures on Raystede.
Many schools these days pay companies to provide them with eggs and an incubator in order to teach children about “the circle of life”. Sadly after hatching these birds of course grow and soon become too much to look after and where do they end up – at Raystede of course! Whether its chickens, Aylsbury ducks or the hilarious Indian Runner ducks these school projects while having the best intentions surely need to be reconsidered – how about teaching kids (and parents) the importance of not littering instead – just my opinion!
Ladies That Munch
Next up was an enormous field and also a paddock with horses of all shapes and sizes including Millie and Ben. In a field next to them were a handful of donkeys including a couple of very attractive ladies – Lizzy and Dot – they were clearly good friends. They never left each others side in the field and when on a walk they somewhat begrudgingly, given the fresh roadside grass on offer, stopped for a photo with yours truly! Thanks girls!
The dog exercise pens were empty as all of the dogs were either in their kennels or being walked by the devoted volunteers who are regularly seen taking the pooches for long walks in the beautiful countryside surrounding Raystede.
I did however notice the lovely inscribed dog tags hanging from the side of one of the exercise pens – I really liked this especially the reference on many to retired greyhounds – a breed of dog I love and whom are often just discarded after their racing days are over.
A World War II Shell
The tortoise and terrapin area was quiet given the fact winter is approaching so many of the occupants are now hibernating.
There is however an exception.
Churchill is a 104 year old tortoise who sadly given his age has some respiratory problems. The good news though is that as a result he does get to enjoy winter in a 30 degree luxury penthouse. I mean for someone who has survived both World Wars and who, the story goes, originated from London where he was rescued during World War II, its the least you can expect really!
I have this vision of him emerging from the rubble during the blitz…. if only Churchill could tell us the full story!
The only disappointment on my visit was the Visitor Information Centre. It doubles as a pet store which on my first impression I don’t think really works that well. It simply did not inspire or have that feeling of welcoming me.
Upon entering, the staff member is pretty hidden away and sat down low in a dark area behind a desk and a covid inspired plastic screen. I think the other factor is that the pet store kind of envelops the visitor information kiosk – just my opinion and an area I think can be improved.
The pet store itself offers you the chance to purchase animal friendly treats, beds, collars and at this time of year, amongst many items some rather natty Christmas attire for your four legged friends.
In another building there was a fresh, friendly and welcoming charity shop selling well everything you would expect from a really good charity shop – clothes, books, dvds, jewellery, cards and various other random items.
This is a nice addition and also a great way to raise additional funds.
Ways To Support the Raystede Centre
In addition to all that I have mentioned Raystede also runs an online adoption service, they coordinate and manage an animal fostering service, they run Peaceways an animal crematorium, they organiser regular webinars and take part in community events. They even have their own veterinary team.
In 2020 Raystede cared for 1,154 vulnerable animals and re-homed 600 pets. With costs so high they, aswell as other animal sanctuaries around the country, desperately need our help.
Ways in which Raystede encourage support is to donate, organise or attend fundraising events, become a friend of Raystede by donating a monthly sum, volunteer to help, shop on site, join their lottery, leave a gift in your will or simply spread the word. It would be great if you shared this blog on the links below.
Drop By... They Don't All Peck...
As I mentioned at the beginning I think we will all remember 2020 (and 2021) as the year Covid-19 took over our lives. I think a large number of us will forever be grateful to our wildlife, our parks, our countryside and those animals we shared it with. For many these moments got us through some of the worst times of our lives.
I certainly feel its time that I started to repay my love for nature that perhaps, pre covid, I had started to take for granted.
Visiting and writing about this exceptional animal welfare centre in the heart of the Sussex countryside is just a start and I hope raises awareness of the fantastic work and efforts made by all the staff and volunteers.
If you are ever in East Sussex why not pay the Raystede Centre and their menagerie of amazing animals a visit – they don’t bite although that Gregory – he may Peck!?