The donkey has performed many roles: carrying Jesus, giving seaside rides to children and being the butt of many jokes over thousands of years of domestication. Now an unfamiliar job can be added to the list: ecosystem engineer. The hard-working animals will help re-establish one of Britain’s rarest wild flowers by trampling over specially seeded plots. More than 20,000 seeds of the small-flowered catchfly have been sown on farmland at the Devon headquarters of the Donkey Sanctuary , the international animal welfare charity. The sowing is part of the Colour in the Margins project led by the charity Plantlife seeking to restore rare arable plants such as the small-flowered catchfly, which has vanished from about 70% of its former range. The seeds, which have been sown alongside other wild flowers and grains, will also help provide food for threatened birds such as the linnet, yellowhammer and skylark, which have been recorded at the sanctuary. If they germinate successfully this summer, the Donkey Sanctuary will host a trial next spring to discover if donkeys can assist the germination process by walking across specially seeded plots, a technique known as “treading in”. Ruth Angell, the ecology and conservation manager at the […]

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