The past year has been a very challenging time for all of the major equine charities in Britain. There have been unprecedented numbers of horses at risk, with illegal ‘fly grazing’, indiscriminate breeding and financially overwhelmed owners all resulting in horses that need to find new homes. All of the main equine charities that provide sanctuary care are full to capacity, but it is estimated that there may be at least 6,000 additional animals that will require some form of intervention during the winter months ahead. Redwings Horse Sanctuary, the largest horse sanctuary in the UK, is one of those operating at full capacity, yet has still managed to squeeze in over 90 needy new arrivals so far this year. Over half of these arose from a massive operation that took place in South Wales between January and March. Many of the equines rescued in these large-scale round ups have serious health problems, such as strangles, putting an even greater strain on the financial and veterinary resources of the organisations that take them in.
Redwings Horse Sanctuary has been very busy establishing additional capacity and has recently opened a new farm in North Norfolk. The new site is just on the outskirts of the market town of Aylsham, about 9 miles north of Norwich. The Aylsham site is the charity’s ninth sanctuary farm, but is also open to the public as a Visitor Centre. The past few months have been spent fitting out the site for its new role, including the installation of miles of new fencing and water mains. An formal opening planned for early summer had to be put on hold because of difficulties experienced with building work on the Visitor Centre itself, but this has not deterred the loyal supporters of the charity from making donations towards the cost of the project.
Redwings supporters had an early opportunity to see the new site at first hand with a special open weekend held on 6th/7th August 2011. That weekend enjoyed glorious weather and attracted large numbers of existing supporters, as well as a great deal of interest from potential new supporters in the Aylsham area. A number of Redwings adoption equines are based at the new Visitor Centre, including Gulliver. Gulliver and his mother, Cinders, were rescued by the RSPCA when he was only a few days old. They had been abandoned and left to fend for themselves at the mercy of the elements. Cinders was painfully thin, having used the little food that she could find to provide milk for her foal. The RSPCA asked Redwings if both Cinders and Gulliver could be given a permanent home within the sanctuary. Gulliver proved to be so popular at the Aylsham Preview Weekend that the decision was made to include him in the Redwings Adoption Club.
The town of Aylsham has a population of around 6,000 and is the northern terminus for the Bure Valley Railway, a fifteen inch gauge heritage line connecting the town with Wroxham. Additional tourist attractions in the area include Blickling Hall, the reputed former home of Anne Boleyn, which is about 1.5 miles away. Aylsham has a number of other claims to fame, one being that it became Norfolk’s first plastic bag free town on May 3rd 2008! It is also claimed that the Aylsham branch of Tescos (is nowhere safe from them?) is the ‘greenest in the world’.
The new Redwings Visitor Centre at Aylsham also has some worthy green credentials. There are two established ponds which help to attract a wide diversity of wildlife, a fact not lost on the many visitors who enjoyed walking around the site during the Open Weekend last year, and extensive tree cover. Of all of the Redwings sites, it is certainly one of my favourites and I look forward to many people enjoying all it has to offer over the coming years.
The new Redwings Aylsham Visitor Centre has the same range of facilities as the existing three centres at Oxhill, Nazeing and Caldecott Hall. Admission to all Redwings sites is free of charge and there is also free parking, including parking for those less able. Each Visitor Centre has a well-stocked gift shop and also offers a wide range of refreshments. Dogs are welcome at Redwings, but must be kept on a lead at all times. The Visitor Centres also have designated play areas for children.
The main headquarters of Redwings is at Hapton, about nine miles south of Norwich. Hapton is a working farm and is not normally open to the public. However, the farm does open for two weekends every year, one in July and one in December. These weekends always prove to be very popular with supporters, even in the occasionally inclement weather! This winter Open Weekend this year was on Saturday 1st and Sunday 2nd December and we had an excellent attendance despite the somewhat challenging weather!
Opening times for the four Visitor Centres can all be found on the Redwings website at http://redwings.co.uk