Somerset Life celebrates 70 years of savin animals at Ferne Animal Sanctuary in the Blackdown Hills

PUBLISHED: 20:09 20 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:58 20 February 2013

Some of Ferne's lucky residents

Some of Ferne's lucky residents

After 70 years of saving animals, the work of Ferne Animal Sanctuary in Somerset is as important as ever

Somerset Life celebrates 70 years of savin animals at Ferne Animal Sanctuary in the Blackdown Hills

High in Somerset's Blackdown Hills is an animal sanctuary with a unique place in history. Ferne Animal Sanctuary gives lifelong care to 300 unwanted companion and agricultural animals, and 70 years from its conception it is still saving the lives of many animals who find themselves abandoned, unwanted and in need of refuge.

The Sanctuary began in 1939 as the prospect of war cast its shadow over Britain. While able-bodied men and women prepared to defend their country, the government evacuated children and vulnerable adults from the cities. In all the upheaval, pets and livestock had to be left behind. The authorities saw the abandoned animals as a health hazard and ordered their immediate collection and mass euthanasia.

On 28 August 1939, Nina, Duchess of Hamilton and Brandon, appealed on the BBC's National Radio Service for temporary homes for displaced pets and agricultural animals. Listeners responded well although some took it as a different sort of invitation. Returning to her London home after the broadcast the Duchess was surprised to find a queue of owners with their cats and dogs, and even a parrot, already lined up at her door. The Duchess devoted the rest of her life to Ferne Animal Sanctuary, and when she died in 1951 its work continued. In 1965 it became a registered charity operating as a trust to be carried on by members of the Duchess's team.

In 2009, Ferne Animal Sanctuary adheres closely to the principles of the late Duchess; 'treating each and every animal and bird as an individual and encouraging the kinship of all human and sentient animal life'.

Ferne Animal Sanctuary not only has care of the animals and birds but the farm habitat, too. Buildings, fences and machines all have to be maintained and the land properly managed. Skilled and dedicated volunteers help run the farm, paint the machinery, cut hedges, walk dogs, groom cats and keep the tea room and shop open a few days a week in good weather. Even Ferne's board of trustees consists of volunteers.

The staff closely monitors their charges' wellbeing 365 days each year, and improve their accommodation as and when funds allow. Only cats, dogs, horses and ponies may be re-homed from Ferne Animal Sanctuary. All other animals remain at Ferne for the rest of their lives.

As in 1939, 2009 finds animals in difficult times, and 70 years on there is still a huge demand on the services of Ferne. It is fitting that in this anniversary year the present Duke and Duchess of Hamilton have kindly agreed to be patrons of Ferne Animal Sanctuary. Among the thousands of animals Ferne has helped over the past 70 years is Jasper, a beautiful dog who was found tied to the Sanctuary gates, and who is now the face for the new Friends of Ferne scheme.

The result of the current recession is that many more animals are finding themselves in need and those who find refuge at Ferne are some of the lucky ones. It is only the dedicated staff, volunteers and, of course, the generous donations and legacies made to the Sanctuary which enable Ferne to continue its work and to ensure as many animals as possible are safe for life.

There are many ways you can help Ferne: you can volunteer, join the 'Friends of Ferne' scheme, fundraise, donate or leave a legacy. Call 01460 65214 or visit

The sanctuary is open seven days a week, 10am-5pm, and entrance is free, with beautiful grounds to enjoy along with the charming residents, of course!

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