Their quiet disposition and gentle nature have endeared them to thousands of children but the last beach donkeys in Kent have finally ridden into the sunset.
Jess Browning owns donkeys that for the last four years have provided happy memories for many children visiting Dymchurch beach during the summer holidays.
“I bought them from an old chap called Tommy who had been providing donkey rides at Camber Sands for almost 18 years.”
In recent years Jess has put up with misguided personal abuse on social media, posts calling the tradition “cruel” and accusing her of “animal abuse”.’ Nothing could be further from the truth.
Jess has owned and cared for horses and donkeys all her life. They live a happy and carefree life near Hamstreet and want for nothing. But it is bureaucracy that has killed the beast.
“I’ve always had to pay Dymchurch Parish Council £400 for my annual licence to operate beach rides. But this year, I’ve been slapped with a 30-page email of instructions from Folkestone and Hythe Council insisting I need an additional licence from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).”
This extra level of bureaucracy involves the payment of almost £300 for additional licencing, granted after an inspection of premises and animal management, followed by a veterinary inspection of each animal, the cost of vetting to be paid for by the applicant.
“We’re talking in the region of £600 on top of the £400 parish council fee. It’s just not financially viable to do it anymore.”
Jess, a teacher and qualified special educational needs co-ordinator at the Marsh Academy in New Romney, added: “I charge £4 per ride and each ride lasts five minutes. I don’t earn a living from this. The donkeys are very sociable animals who love interaction with people. The children love them and it’s always so gratifying to see the pleasure they give the kids.”
Donkeys have been a part of beach holidays since the late 18th century and have been providing rides at Dymchurch since the 1940s.
“I’m heartbroken I’ve had to give up,” said Jess. “I love what we do. So do the donkeys.”
Image Credits: Chris Lawson .