Devon donkey sanctuary volunteers 'disgusted' by huge wages as closure looms

Volunteers fighting to save a branch of the Devon-based Donkey Sanctuary say they are "disgusted" to learn charity bosses have been earning up to £130,000 a year. Eight volunteers have written to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and started a petition to protect the Ivybridge branch from closure.

Dawn Blatchford, one of the campaigners, said she was horrified when she read accounts that revealed 14 workers were paid more than £60,000 in 2022. She said: "It's disgusting. The animals should come first. They are a charity for animals."

Miss Blatchford, from Plymouth, and seven others who volunteer at the Ivybridge sanctuary have written a strongly-worded letter to Marianne Steele, chief executive of the Sidmouth-headquartered The Donkey Sanctuary, pleading for it to remain open. In the letter they raise questions about why it is proposed to shut sanctuaries in Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and Ivybridge, with one in Belfast potentially being scaled back.


The campaigners have also written to Mr Sunak, Labour leader Keir Starmer, Government ministers, and Plymouth MPs and councillors including Johnny Mercer, Luke Pollard and Sally Cresswell. They ask whether there has been a review of senior management roles that do not provide donkey care and whether there could be streamlining in these areas.

It comes after Donkey Sanctuary accounts published with the Charity Commission show one executive earned between £120,000 and £130,000, and another between £100,000 and £110,000, with three paid more than £90,000 and four more earning above £80,000. Miss Blatchford said donations from the public should towards animal welfare and said: "People pay money for the donkeys, but it's going to bosses. At an animal charity the animals come first, second and third."

The accounts revealed the Donkey Sanctuary, one of the largest equine charities in the world, had an income of £57.395m in 2022, of which £51.65m came from donations and legacies. The charity spent £35.95m on its charitable activities, but banked £7.66m for future use.

The campaigners have started a petition on to Keep the Ivybridge Donkey Sanctuary Open. The petition said: "This sanctuary is an invaluable resource for our community, providing therapeutic benefits to many individuals who struggle with mental health issues. Losing it would be devastating not only to the animals but also to those who rely on its services."

Miss Blatchford has been a volunteer at the Ivybridge Donkey Sanctuary for seven years. She said: "I go there every weekend. We volunteers do mucking out, grooming and health checking."

Last week the Donkey Sanctuary charity said it has shut the Ivybridge facility to visitors because it was one of four under threat of closure due to financial pressures. Bosses said the potential closures were because the charity needed "to make best use of our donors' money and to ensure we continue to achieve our core mission of improving the welfare of donkeys in the UK and around the world".

In total 57 workers are under consultation for redundancy, with 11 of them being in Ivybridge. The Ivybridge Donkey Sanctuary, in Filham Park, houses 21 donkeys with the charity confident all of them can be safely relocated to a new home if the centre closes.

The main charity base in Sidmouth is unaffected by the proposals. The charity issued a statement last week and has declined to comment further or respond to the campaign.

The Donkey Sanctuary was founded in 1969 by Elisabeth Svendsen in Devon and became a charity in 1973. It now employs more than 760 people and has more than 300 employees.

Its headquarters are at Slade House Farm, in Sidmouth, from where the charity oversees international operations worldwide. More than 14,500 donkeys have been looked after by the charity in the UK and Ireland.