Their friendly temperament has made them a popular attraction in their field on the edge of a rural village.

But not everyone in Great Massingham seems to be fans of the herd of miniature donkeys kept by local woman Karen Rust.

The parish council received complaints from some villagers about the "considerable amount of noise" the animals made and lodged an objection to a planning application from Mrs Rust to keep them on her land.

The threat might have seen the donkeys turfed out of their stables and sent to a sanctuary.

But after an outcry by other locals, who sent in more than 40 letters of support to officials, the herd has won the right to stay.

"There was a quite a lot of hoo-ha with the parish council, there were all sorts of complaints," Mrs Rust said. "I had to fight ever so hard."

She started with just one animal 12 years ago, when she lived at Syderstone, near Fakenham.

Three years ago she moved her growing herd, which includes rescued animals, to a field at Little Massingham, near King's Lynn.

And after lockdown ended, she hoped to resume taking the animals on outings to care homes, schools and the Norfolk Hospice.

Eastern Daily Press: Karen Rust with her donkeysKaren Rust with her donkeys (Image: Chris Bishop)

But first Mrs Rust discovered she needed a licence to use the donkeys to provide therapy. 

Then she found out her operation had been the subject of complaints and she needed planning permission to convert the field they lived on from agricultural use to grazing land.Eastern Daily Press: Karen Rust has won her planning battle to allow her donkeys to remain at Little MassinghamKaren Rust has won her planning battle to allow her donkeys to remain at Little Massingham (Image: Chris Bishop)

In the face of opposition, supporters rallied round in support of the donkeys.

And despite the objections of the parish council, West Norfolk Council has now approved her planning application.

"I don't know what would have happened otherwise," she said. "I'd have been really stuck.

"They'd have to go to a donkey sanctuary and that would have broken my heart."

Eastern Daily Press: Karen Rust with some of her donkeysKaren Rust with some of her donkeys (Image: Chris Bishop)

Retired hairdresser Mrs Rust, 69, and her husband David, a 71-year-old retired shopkeeper have resumed taking the animals on visits to care homes and the hospice, to give an uplift to residents and patients.

"They love them," she said. "Their faces light up when we see them. We take them up in the lifts as well."

One relative of a hospice patient posted on Mrs Rust's website: "Whilst my Mum was receiving end of life care at the Tapping House Hospice we had two separate visits from two miniature donkeys and two sheep.

Eastern Daily Press: Karen Rust's stables at Little MassinghamKaren Rust's stables at Little Massingham (Image: Chris Bishop)

"The joy and memories this gave to my mum and family is unforgettable. The other patients and staff really enjoyed it too. This was all done for free for the hospice."

The animals can also be booked for children's parties, school visits and even weddings.

Little Massingham Parish Council objected to the planning application, saying it had received complaints about the "considerable amount of noise" made by the animals, while shelters erected on the site off Station Road were not in keeping with the area.

Eastern Daily Press: Karen Rust hands out treats to her donkeysKaren Rust hands out treats to her donkeys (Image: Chris Bishop)

It said they were "a jumble of aesthetically unappealing structures that are now an eyesore on the open countryside".

But Mrs Rust insists the only time her donkeys bray is with excitement when she arrives each morning to tend to them, while her neat stables are no different to those found anywhere else in rural Norfolk.

Some 44 comments in favour of the donkeys were posted on the borough's planning portal by supporters, one of whom described them as "valued additions to the local community".

Eastern Daily Press: A sign at Karen Rust's stablesA sign at Karen Rust's stables (Image: Chris Bishop)

Rosemary Chandler wrote: "In this world of disasters and war it's so sad that such precious time has been wasted on this matter.

"It's only things like these donkeys and the good work of Mrs Rust that makes the world seem a better place."

Sean Graver said:  "I'm sure that anyone opposed to the donkeys on the land would appreciate what the Rusts do if they needed them to put a smile on their child's face or make a sick or dying relative feel better in themselves.

"There are much bigger things to be worrying about in the world than a piece of land which houses donkeys for the good of the community."