Lauren Knight hears from the animal rescuers of Essex about the work they do to ensure every creature, big or small, receives the love and respect they deserve, and finds out what the rest of us can do to help too.

It may surprise you to learn that many greyhounds retire from racing with a lot of life ahead of them. The Wickford Greyhound Trust helps to find homes for over 3,500 retired greyhounds every year. Lots of lovely boys and girls call the rescue home, including the midnight-coated beauty, Charlotte, brindle girl Matilda, and five-year-olds George and Floyd, who long for a place to call their own.

The trust works hard to match greyhounds with the right families, but every year the need for their services outweighs their capacity, which is why they rely on donations and volunteers to help them move closer to their goal of one day living in a world where every greyhound can find a loving home to spend their retirement.

Great British Life: Today, 600 residents call the Hopefield Sanctuary home. Today, 600 residents call the Hopefield Sanctuary home. (Image: Hopefield Animal Sanctuary)

But these aren’t the only animals in need of a second chance at living life to the fullest. Hopefield Animal Sanctuary has made it their mission to rescue, save and rehabilitate animals in the Essex area and beyond. Founders, Paula and Ernie, began their journey when one bitter winter a number of horses were abandoned on Rainham Marshes. They created a safe haven to help, and 40 years on, their decision to act has changed the lives of many animals for the better. Today 600 residents, including raccoons, reindeer, equines and more, call the sanctuary home.

‘Though many of our animals come from sad beginnings, including Juliet the horse who arrived with bleach burns and utterly emaciated, their stories can be rewritten,’ shares marketing officer Tracy Tristam. ‘Now Juliet is happy, and as healthy as well, a horse. 'A lot of the cases are incomprehensible to us, and we'll never understand how people can be so cruel. Stories like Juliet's, and Miley the shihtzu who arrived unrecognisable as a dog, are a true testament to our CEO, Dave, our general manager, Lianne, and all the staff and volunteers who help with rehabilitation.'

Many of Hopefield’s animals were rescued from owners who couldn’t care for them properly or from the meat and dairy industries. Tracy adds: ‘We believe in teaching the importance of kindness to animals, especially to children, as it’s their generation that will hopefully continue to improve on these issues.’

Great British Life: Bam and Boo after they were rescued from the closing meat farm. Bam and Boo after they were rescued from the closing meat farm. (Image: Hoppy Acre)

Sharing their aim to educate more people on the plight of animals is Magda and Elliott Gold. After discovering research that suggested a staggering 3.5 million animals are euthanised annually due to overcrowded shelters, they embarked on a mission to live more consciously and embrace a vegan lifestyle. Starting with making a difference one paw at a time, they launched The Hoppy Acre in 2017.

‘Our goal is to ensure every animal we welcome receives the love, space and attention they need to flourish,’ Magda explains. ‘In the next decade, we envision becoming a haven for over 200 mammals, hopefully offering a retreat-style BnB where visitors can experience sanctuary life while supporting our cause.’

Over 60 rabbits live in cottages (minimum two by three metres) on site, 35 of which are in the duo’s permanent care for long-term illness or mobility issues. Among them are Bam, Boo and Spirit, who bravely overcame many challenges after leaving a closed meat farm.

‘They successfully navigated surgery and rehabilitation and are now thriving,’ Elliott comments. ‘Animals across various industries endure unimaginable suffering. We advocate for a shift in perspective, urging society to recognise animals as sentient beings deserving of compassion. By fostering a deeper connection with animals, we strive to not only transform their lives but better human-animal relationships.’

Great British Life: Monty with Molly the donkey.Monty with Molly the donkey. (Image: Sandy's Farm)

The bond between people and animals can be an incredibly powerful one, as Gary Clarke, co-founder of Sandy’s Farm, knows only too well.

‘As a parent of two children with learning difficulties, I soon realised the calming effect animals can have,’ shares Gary. His family would visit open farms and sanctuaries around Essex, growing their collection of pets, until people suggested they should open their own. They moved to their 12-acre site in St. Osyth to ensure everyone, including their 21 horses, countless chickens, Tilly the Dexter cow and more, had plenty of room.

‘When establishing the charity, our vision was to provide a safe place for people to visit and volunteer, help care for the animals, and feel a part of something,’ Gary explains. ‘We also operate a mobile farm that visits local schools, fetes and care homes, and offer work experience placements.

‘It gives individuals time with the animals, which can aid with learning differences, improve mental health, ease anxiety, assist addiction and help domestic abuse victims.’

Great British Life: Patch at the Thorpe le soken Christmas Fayre 2023.Patch at the Thorpe le soken Christmas Fayre 2023. (Image: Sandy's Farm)

Of course, the heart of it all is the animals. ‘Many of them can arrive in a sorry state,’ Gary says. ‘Patch was a four-week-old foal when we adopted him. He was riddled with lice, severely underweight and should never have been without his mother.

‘It took lots of time and care, and we nearly lost him several times, but I’m pleased to say he’s now doing incredibly well and adores visitors’ attention.

‘Our beloved Monty was another rescue in desperate need. Previously a bait dog, he was raised in a fighting environment, and so at first could often become a shivering wreck. Today, he’s an integral part of the farm. His main issue is over-friendliness and trying to leave with anyone who offers him attention!

‘The unconditional love that animals give us is truly eye-watering. The changes they can make to people’s lives are the best part of running the farm.’

Great British Life: South Essex Wildlife Hospital (SEWH) is one of the busiest wildlife hospitals in the UKSouth Essex Wildlife Hospital (SEWH) is one of the busiest wildlife hospitals in the UK (Image: Lawrie Brailey/ South Essex Wildlife Hospital)

This is why animals truly deserve our compassion returned when they are in need. ‘Animals feel the same pain and fear we do,’ shares Sue Schwar, founder of South Essex Wildlife Hospital (SEWH). ‘They too deserve a place dedicated to prioritising their health.’

SEWH is one of the busiest wildlife hospitals in the UK, receiving over 10,000 patients annually and treating over 200 species.

‘Most casualties we encounter have been adversely affected by human-made hazards like vehicle collision, entanglements and litter,’ says Sue. ‘There’s been many memorable cases over the years, including that of a small fox cub that got his head stuck in a wheel last summer. We don’t know how he got there, but we were, thankfully, able to free him quickly and help him recover to reunite with his mum.’

The hospital also provides expert advice to rescues and students in training, helping to advance research into wildlife health. ‘We depend on public support to cover the rising costs of the rescue and rehabilitation of our patients,’ Sue admits. ‘Every donation, no matter how small, is vital for helping prevent animals’ suffering.’

Great British Life: Current residents Paddy and Poppy are two of many at NAWT Essex waiting for a special home.Current residents Paddy and Poppy are two of many at NAWT Essex waiting for a special home. (Image: National Animal Welfare Trust)

‘The sad truth is there are still many animals out there that need people’s help or a loving home,’ shares Morgan Mitchell, fundraising officer at The National Animal Welfare Trust (NAWT) Essex. ‘We endeavour to help as many as we can. Our favourite rescue quote is Adopt. If you can’t adopt, foster. If you can’t foster, volunteer. If you can’t volunteer, donate and if you can’t donate, educate.

‘In 2023, we rehoused 80 dogs and 78 cats and strive to improve these numbers every year.’

Current residents Paddy and Poppy are two of many waiting for a special home. ‘Paddy’s a gorgeous chocolate lab and Poppy a terrier mix,’ Morgan says. ‘They’re the perfect pair who just want a comfortable place to spend their golden years.’

Another marvellous lady in need of a doting family is Flossy, a stunning tortoiseshell feline. ‘Life in the cattery can be overwhelming,’ Morgan reveals. ‘Flossy’s incredibly affectionate, but enjoys her own space. She’s a beautiful girl who deserves to be looked after.

‘Adopting or fostering a pet in need saves lives not just by giving one animal a home but by creating a much-needed rescue space for another.’

Great British Life: Hamish has the most unique pair of horns! Hamish has the most unique pair of horns! (Image: Tower Hill Stables)

‘It’s important to remember animals can’t ask for help,’ shares Tower Hill Stables founder Fiona Oakes, ‘and in the same way people are quick to extend a hand to a dog or cat in need, we extend that to include farm animals. Our rescued farm creatures have been saved from slaughter and we believe in offering them the ability to rest in peaceful surroundings.’

Fiona, also a renowned global marathon runner, champions overcoming adversity. A documentary on Amazon Prime, ‘Running for Good’ details her running career and the vital work done at the sanctuary. From saving elderly horses from a local livery yard to building a menagerie of rescued and ex-farm animals in the wilds of the Dengie Peninsular, Fiona’s commitment to animal care has never wavered.

The latest addition to the Tower Hill family is Hamish the Highland cow who was living with his mum at an open farm, but following her death, was left all alone.

‘Herd animals need to live with others of their kind,’ Fiona shares. ‘We were delighted when Hamish arrived in March. He possesses the most unique pair of horns and has quickly settled in with his Highland pals.’

Great British Life: Bow and Hunter on arrival. Bow and Hunter on arrival. (Image: EHPPS)

No animal deserves to feel isolated, which is why the Essex Horse and Pony Protection Society (EHPPS) work hard to let the equines of Essex know support is close by. They’re dedicated to rescuing, rehabilitating and rehousing horses, ponies and donkeys, with 250 currently in foster placements across the country.

‘In 2015, our team rushed piebald stallion Bruce to the vets after he was neglected by his previous owners,’ says sanctuary manager Leigh Perry. ‘The vet warned Bruce was on borrowed time, so we began preparing for the inevitable.

‘One week later, however, Bruce was transformed. He had a new zest for life and vets were astonished by his recovery. In November he went to one of our fostering officers to live out his days, surrounded by love and care.’

Bruce is one among many who’ve made miraculous progress at EHPPS. ‘The story of colt foal Hunter has touched all our hearts,’ Leigh shares. ‘He and his mother, Bow, came to us in poor health after being abandoned.

‘We did our best for Bow, but prior injuries unfortunately meant she didn’t make it. Hunter was just two months old when he became an orphan. In spite of his tragic beginnings, he’s now thriving among our herd, looking forward to the day when he’ll join a foster family of his own.’

It’s a sad fact that despite protection laws, some animals continue to be treated inhumanely.

‘Indiscriminate breeding coupled with the financial crisis is contributing to an increase in poor health, abandonment and neglect of horses in the UK,’ Leigh states. ‘Animal welfare charities do their best to pick up the pieces, though many sanctuaries are at full capacity, which limits the number they can help.’

‘Public support is essential for helping us to effectively serve our community and our animals as they deserve,’ Leigh says. ‘After all, it’s an animal’s world, we just live in it.

From the horse's mouth

The hard work these organisations do wouldn’t be possible without the generous support of the public and volunteers. Find out how you can help the animals of Essex.

Essex Horse & Pony Protection Society

Attend or host a fundraising event, donate items, become a member or volunteer.

Tower Hill Stables

Become a supporter for just £1 a month. Find out more at or follow them on Instagram @towerhillstables

NAWT Essex

To learn more about fostering or donating, visit Check out their social pages. I: @nawtessex

Wickford Greyhound Trust

Donate online or adopt a greyhound at

The Hoppy Acre

Support and follow The Hoppy Acre on Instagram. I: @The_Hoppy_Acre

Hopefield Animal Sanctuary

Visit the sanctuary, join an event, support them on social media or sponsor an animal.


Visit or follow them on social media @southessexwildlife to donate or volunteer!

Sandy’s Farm

To get involved with the farm, donate or volunteer, visit