Visit Raystede – One of Sussex’s Best Loved Animal Charities

I love animals.

When I was younger – much younger – I adopted a rhino from Africa.  I spent weeks waiting for it to arrive, content to give it a while since I knew it had to traverse some distance, before eventually asking Mum whether she should chase it up.  That’s when she explained to me what adopting a wild animal meant.

So, older and wiser, when I was nabbed coming out of Waitrose earlier this year, I agreed to adopt a donkey called Poppet.  These days, they call it “sponsorship” rather than adoption. Perhaps these animal charities learnt their lesson after receiving a deluge of enquiries as to the whereabouts of adopted creatures.

Maria Bligh with Poppet the donkey at Raystede Animal Rescue Sanctuary
Maria Bligh with Poppet

Along with the fuzzy feelings of do-goodedness, sponsoring Poppet came with an invitation to visit her at Raystede Centre for Animal Welfare where I could meet her, tour the Centre, enjoy a complimentary drink in the café and even bring a friend with me.  The friend part was pretty essential if you recall my article on the Glaucoma that’s put a stop to my self-driving days (although last night I dreamt I was driving a three-storey bus, and coping very well, so have that, DVLA!).

Anyway, yesterday was the big day and my good friend, Ann, kindly collected me early afternoon.   We were both well wrapped up – it’s turned cold – and off we went to Raystede.

Locally, everyone knows Raystede.  Along with Wildlife Rescue Ambulance Service (WRAS), it’s one of Sussex’s main animal charities.  You can’t visit the latter as they’re focused on saving and rehabilitating sick and injured wildlife, but Raystede positively welcomes visitors.  Indeed, their visitors are the main source of revenue in the form of sponsorships, donations and spending in the café and shops on the premises.  Entry is free but to avoid over-crowding at popular times they operate an online booking system.

Like all such charities, they suffered during covid lockdowns and are still paying the price as they’re taking in huge numbers of “lockdown dogs.”  These are dogs people thought would make ideal additions to their families when they had oodles of time at home to go walkies, etc.  Once people started returning to work, they found a bored dog left alone in the house does not a happy creature make, so they’re giving the poor animals up in droves.

The added complication is that most of these dogs are unsocialised.  During lockdown, puppy training classes were suspended, so many of the dogs coming into the rescue centre have behavioural issues.  The volunteer who gave us our tour told us that they used to have a ratio of 20% dogs that required work before being ready for adoption while 80% were pretty much good to go on arrival.  Now, that ratio is flipped.  Together with the increase in numbers and 80% needing support, it’s putting a huge strain on their resources.

Raystede’s been going for 70 years, having been started by Miss Raymonde-Hawkins, a head teacher (she looks like a head teacher) in 1952 with the aim to “alleviate animal cruelty, rescue, rehabilitate, rehome and provide sanctuary for animals in need.”  Miss R-H would be proud of her legacy as the site and its staff and volunteers has grown to 43 acres and helps over 1200 animals every year.

Not only is the charity involved directly with animals, Raystede has an education programme, giving talks to local schools and the like.  It holds fund-raising and educational events and offers support and advice to anyone who needs assistance with their pets.  I particularly applaud the work they do to prepare children to be future animal protectors.

They do all this with no government or lottery funding so they’re totally reliant on donations – one-offs or monthly, sponsorships and other gifts.

Today, I brought a couple of practical gifts with me and handed them in before our tour.  I knew they’d been after some faux fur throws for dog beds, so I’d bought a couple from their Amazon Wish List.

Amazon had also kindly sent me a very large bottle of Salmon Oil for animal use only.  I was less than enamoured with this as I’d actually ordered inkjet cartridges for my HP printer so I called their Customer Service to suggest my printer probably wouldn’t run too well on the Salmon Oil.  To their credit, they apologised for the mix-up, despatched my ink cartridges and told me I could keep the salmon oil.  Kind of them.  I had no use for it but Raystede were delighted to take it as the oil apparently has many benefits for dogs.  So we all gained in the end, except Amazon and the intended recipient of the Salmon Oil.

Anyway, I expect you want to hear about Poppet, since she was the main reason for my visit…

Well she was smaller than I’d expected.  When I was offered a choice of sponsor animals – and they only had photos outside Waitrose, not the actual creatures – I chose Poppet the donkey because (a) they’re beautiful animals, (b) my Mum used to have one and I thought she’d be pleased and (c) donkeys are much abused worldwide so I thought they deserved a break.

From the photo, I couldn’t tell how big she was.  They really ought to have done that thing where they photograph the item beside a 10 pence piece to give perspective.  She turned out to be a miniature donkey.  I didn’t know whether to feel cheated or happy that my money might go further.  However, as you’ll see from the photo, she’s very cute and she stood, patiently, tolerating much petting and photographing when I’m sure she’d rather have been off eating or running around a field.

The running around a field can be a little tricky for donkeys, however.  Their feet are adapted to function in dry environments such as Africa, from where they originate, not our soggy pastures, so they’re in constant danger of suffering from hoof issues such as abscesses, thrush or the completely debilitating laminitis.

Their carer explained to us how their hooves are checked and cleaned out every evening after a day in the field to ensure they remain healthy.  They also try to limit the amount of grass the donkeys eat since it’s full of sugar and isn’t their natural food.  Just like humans, being overweight puts a strain on their joints and at least one of the donkeys we met has daily anti-inflammatory and pain killing treatment for this reason.

Once we’d taken all the photos and enjoyed all the petting we wanted, our small group continued with the site tour to the sounds of one of the big donkeys braying.  It was loud!  Apparently, their brays can be heard up to 25 miles away.  Well, my husband claims I’m noisy when I get shouty during arguments, but I think even I’d struggle to achieve that range.

We called into the onsite charity shop where they have the usual offerings of second-hand clothing, jigsaws, books, ornaments, etc. and the pet shop that offers animal food, bedding and toys including the obligatory “humiliate your dog” section with all manner of little outfits your dog wouldn’t be caught dead wearing, given the choice (except they’re not given the choice!).

Raystede now also have a shop in Uckfield High Street that’s going great guns and well worth a rummage.

To round off our visit we used our free drink vouchers in the café.  I can recommend their hot chocolate.  It was hot and chocolatey, just as it should be and as it isn’t in many places.

If I return as an animal, I think I’d like to end up at Raystede.  Their animals really do enjoy the best of care from a dedicated team.


WRAS Wildlife Rescue:



  • Maria Bligh

    Maria Bligh is a journalist, published author, professional speaker, singer and artist now settled in Sussex, UK, having previously travelled extensively throughout the UK and overseas, including a period living in Geneva. Married to a successful musician and with a background that encompasses working in the music industry, finance, sales and presentations training, she maintains a diverse existence. Her interests encompass travel, nature, animals and the arts: music, theatre, painting, writing and philosophy. Maria now writes for online and print magazines. Having once maintained a regular full page in “A Place In The Sun” magazine, travel is an obvious interest, but her articles also cover a wide variety of subjects. She bills herself as “an observer of the human condition and all that sail in her.” Maria has frequently appeared on radio & TV as well as in print. Her humorous style has seen her travel the world addressing audiences throughout Europe, Asia and Australasia and as a cruise-ship speaker with P&O and Fred Olsen.

One thought on “Visit Raystede – One of Sussex’s Best Loved Animal Charities

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *