THE FOUNDER of an animal therapy centre has been left distraught and her site faces closure after the council denied her a lease after 30 years of tenancy.

The Country Corner in Verwood has been providing natural therapy through animals but may be forced to close at the end of its lease.

Joanna Birley, 63, set up the site on the old dairy farm on Dewlands Common after a freak riding accident 37 years ago that left her using a wheelchair.

In the three decades since she has used the site to benefit others using her love for animals.

Joanna said she had been horse riding ‘all her life’ before her accident and that being around animals ‘saved her mentality’.

After liaising with another farm, she swapped her larger horses for miniature horses that she was able to handle whilst in wheelchair.

“I thought 'why keep this just for me, why don’t I do this for other people?',” said Joanna.

She then set up the Country Corner and introduced other therapeutic animals including goats, chickens and pigs.

Over the years Joanna’s animals have brought joy to care homes, local fayres through miniature horse jumping and even starred in a local pantomime by pulling Cinderella’s carriage.

Since 1992, Joanna has leased the land with Dorset Council and has renewed it every three years.

However, after requesting the lease in June 2023 Joanna was given a ‘bombshell’ on December 19 that she would be given a year lease and must vacate the land by March 2025.

“I’m really upset,” said Joanna.

She added: “If I hadn't paid my rent or I'd been a bad tenant, I could understand it, but I haven’t.”

Joanna said that due to her age, disability and that she had adapted the site for wheelchair use, she will not be able to start the Country Corner again.

She said she has also been informed that for the next year she will only be allowed horses and goats, and that her chickens, pigs and barn cat will now be prohibited.

A Dorset Council spokesman said: "Dorset Council holds many plots of land for strategic reasons which are often let on a short-term basis to generate revenue until they are needed for their designated purpose.

"As a landowner, we reserve the right to periodically review how our land is being used and to determine whether a use remains compatible with its long-term goals.

“In this instance , it has been decided that the land must be returned to grazing purposes only to protect the future interests of the adjacent school.

“The council has given the Country Corner 15 months’ notice to vacate the land and to find new and more suitable premises for their petting zoo and other associated activities as the new short-term lease will expire in March 2025."