5 animal sanctuaries in Kent you can visit
PUBLISHED: 11:56 15 July 2019 | UPDATED: 14:32 06 November 2020
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Kent Life celebrates the local charities offering safe homes to abused or unwanted animals in the county
Did you know you can visit a sanctuary for rescued goats in Maidstone? Or help feed neglected meerkats in Swanley?
We celebrate the local charities offering safe homes to abused or unwanted animals in Kent. Reliant on donations, these invaluable places offer various opportunities for members of the public to see their wonderful work throughout the year.
You may come away having sponsored a favourite animal or even having volunteered some of your spare time, but one thing is certain, you'll be uplifted by our county's dedicated animal sanctuaries.
Boughton Monchelsea, near Maidstone
Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, Buttercups Goat Sanctuary in Boughton Monchelsea is the only registered goat charity in the UK.
From humble beginnings, the centre near Maidstone is now home to around 150 permanent residents and provides care to around 130 more in foster homes across Kent and East Sussex.
Established by Robert Hitch in 1989, when he was asked to take on two rescue goats, Buttercups is now a leading animal sanctuary which also offers educational school visits and volunteering opportunities for a variety of people, young and old.
It's a far cry from Robert's original idea, to retire early and keep a few rare breed sheep in a neighbour's orchard.
Knowing they had two goats already, and that they were in the process of buying a plot of land, a friendly local RSPCA inspector started bringing them more and more goats.
"In the following years, our RSPCA inspector told all his friends that we accepted goats and we were getting all the goats that the RSPCA were rescuing," says Robert. "They were coming in with terrible injuries or horribly neglected. In our ignorance, we didn't realise that there was no other goat rescue centre in the whole of the UK."
A registered charity since 2003, the centre has grown year on year. After buying the initial plot of land, Robert went on to buy extra parts of the estate opposite his home. Now the centre spreads across 40 acres and to celebrate its 30th anniversary in April, the team planted a new copse of silver birch trees. The name Buttercups comes from the carpet of golden flowers that cover the fields each May.
"We have at the moment six full-time staff and three part-time staff. We rely heavily on volunteers, both for morning shifts and also to come along in the evening to put the goats away and to feed them at night.
"We take Duke of Edinburgh Awards students, people with special needs and we run visits with schools or groups like the Brownies and Scouts, who come on educational tours."
Having fallen in love with the characterful animals, Robert says he takes in goats with all sorts of stories of ill treatment, but immediately sees them accepted by the herd and marvels at how quickly they trust people again.
"They are very intelligent," he says. "They have separate pens at night and there's a long corridor with doors to the left and right, but it only takes a new goat three nights to understand which is theirs. But of course, like naughty children, they want to stay out and play sometimes so you have to say, in a stern voice, 'Go to bed' and they prick their ears up and go in. They're real characters."
The centre is open to the public daily from Easter through to the end of October, and weekends only during the winter season. Unusually, visitors don't see the goats from behind a fence, but walk among them and interact.
Entrance is by donation and there are refreshments available at The Old Goat Tea Room.
The charity relies entirely upon the generosity of its supporters and also raises funds by offering visitor experiences such as a 'goat keeper for the day' experience and a 'walking with goats' afternoon.
Sadly, the centre is currently full and is not accepting any more residents at present.
This is the first year that Robert has had such a demand for places that he's had to turn away goats needing homes.
Founded in 1960, Foal Farm has been successfully rescuing animals for decades. Based at its 26-acre farm, this centre has two strings to its bow - it both rehomes rescued or unwanted pets such as dogs, cats, rabbits, and guinea pigs, and provides a permanent home for its resident horses, donkeys, cows, pigs, sheep, goats and chickens.
Having started with the rescue of a neglected German Shepherd called Rex by founders Carl and Penny Baker, the charity moved into its large site in 1962 and continues to care for hundreds of animals every year.
Open to the public, the centre offers membership to help raise funds and runs regular events, like the annual Country Festival Day, taking place on 21 July.
Foal Farm relies entirely on voluntary contributions, legacies and money made from fund raising events. As with all of these sanctuaries, regular visitors often fall in love with the place and end up volunteering for them.
High Halden, near Tenterden
With its headquarters and vegan café set on a large site in High Halden, The Retreat is one of our higher-profile sanctuaries. Caring for up to 1,000 animals at a time, the centre aims to rehome if possible but provides a permanent home if not. Members of the public are encouraged to visit during its open season and there's an excellent café serving vegan food and drink.
Visitors can see the horses, cows, pigs, sheep, donkeys, goats and many more in their care.
Farm cats, chickens, ducks and geese provide a warm welcome in the car park and they often have smaller animals like ferrets, rabbits and rats too.
Most of the animals have been rescued from abuse or from the meat industry and the centre operates a strict no-kill policy. It even provides a permanent home for several dogs who have failed their rehoming assessments.
Vegan ideology is at the core of what this registered charity does and it is manned entirely by volunteers.
East Peckham, near Paddock Wood
Set on a 10-acre site, FRIEND Farm was established in 1984 and celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. This sanctuary estimates that it has rescued more than 2,000 animals over the years, offering a lifelong haven for unwanted, neglected and abused animals. There are around 200 animals on the site at one time, with chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, cows, goats, sheep and an alpaca. There are also more than 35 pigs living in their own paddock with wallows.
As with most sanctuaries, it all began with just one animal - in this case a disabled lamb, bought by the centre's founder at a livestock market.
The registered charity relies solely on donations and is run by volunteers, with a focus on education, veganism and ecological sustainability.
It's open to the public at certain times of the year and there are regular events, such as the sanctuary's 25th anniversary music festival on 26 July.
Crockenhill, near Swanley
One of the newest sanctuaries in Kent is Second Chance Animal Rescue (SCAR) in Crockenhill. Set up in 2011, and aiming to rescue, rehabilitate and if possible rehome ill-treated or abandoned animals, this charity is run entirely by volunteers.
Although not strictly open to visitors, there are regular open days and members of the public can make appointments to see around the sanctuary.
Another way the charity raises money is through experience days, often given as gifts. Visitors can choose from an 'exotic animals experience day' - getting up close and personal with raccoons, owls, and tanuki - or a 'meerkat keeper experience'.
Home to everything from pigs and chickens to meerkats and raccoons, they also accept wildlife like hedgehogs, birds and rabbits - the only stipulation is they can't accept dogs.
Founded by John Ranger and his wife Julie, and having become a registered charity in 2015, SCAR has around 70 helpers and many of the animals in their care will live out their lives in comfort at the centre.