New Forest Donkeys
There are many different types of livestock which are put out to pasture here in the New Forest including the famous New Forest ponies, pigs and cows. One of the more overlooked animals which can be found in the forest is the New Forest Donkey.
Found throughout the Forest all year round, only around 200 donkeys are turned out into the forest in comparison with the 3,000 New Forest ponies. They are all owned by the New Forest’s commoners, people who live here and have rights to let their animals graze the open forest - this tradition goes back many hundreds of years.
Unlike the stallions, male donkeys (known as a ‘Jack’) are allowed to stay in the Forest all year round. It is only on very rare occasions that a Jack is removed from the forest by its owner for being badly behaved! The female donkeys are referred to as a ‘Jenny’ and are also found in the forest throughout the entire year. Their hardy nature allows the donkeys to survive the forest all year round.
Donkeys are not native to the UK, they were brought over to the country by the Romans and for this reason there isn’t a particular New Forest breed of donkey as there is pony.
Although a huge hit with visitors, New Forest donkeys are sometimes unpopular with the locals as they enjoy feasting on their hedgerows. Donkeys prefer to be around trees, hedges and bushes and you are unlikely to spot them on the large grassy heathlands, unlike the New Forest ponies. In fact you will find that the New Forest ponies are often wary of the donkeys and treat them with an air of caution.
Although more docile than the New Forest ponies, it is important for both your safety and the safety of the New Forest animals that you do not approach or stroke them and remember to keep your distance. Donkeys will often be inquisitive if you are having a picnic or have food on you, however please don’t be tempted to feed them as it can not only be bad for their health but it can make them greedy and bite.
Where are the best places to spot New Forest donkeys?
You can usually find some donkeys in the New Forest villages. Head into the forest, near to Fordingbridge and you will often find a cluster of donkeys at Hyde Common. They are also often spotted near the pubs of The Royal Oak at North Gorley and The Foresters Arms, Frogham. The Foresters Arms is known as ‘the donkey pub’ as you will often find a donkey or two by the gate to the pub.
In the village of Beaulieu, you can sometimes spot the donkeys gathering beside the Montagu Arms Hotel or wandering past the tea rooms. You will often find them strolling along the main streets of both Brockenhurst and Burley as well.
Please remember though that it is an offence to feed them so please keep your distance and admire them from afar.
Keeping our donkeys safe
The New Forest National Park is a wonderful place to visit and you can help it stay that way by being a Forest friendly visitor and following the New Forest Code.
For their safety and your own please leave the animals alone - although owned and cared for by local people called commoners, they are unpredictable and best treated as wild. Please don’t feed or pet them; there is plenty of natural food and it’s best that they don’t come to rely on people’s attention. They may look friendly but they can bite and kick, especially donkeys with young.
Donkeys have little to no road awareness and cross roads at any time, so make sure you adhere to the speed limit and keep an eye out. Although some of the donkeys have reflective collars to help them be more visible at night, not all of them have them so please be extremely careful when driving the Forest roads in the evening. Be sure to carry an animals emergency hotline card which provides you with all the information you will need in the case of an emergency.