A LACK of funding in the animal welfare sector could lead to hundreds of animals being killed by the end of the year.

Willows Animal Sanctuary, currently home to around 300 animals, has warned dwindling donations and soaring food and bedding costs could result in the closure of the centre and the deaths of the animals.

The sanctuary, based near Fraserburgh, is one of many centres which have been badly affected by a drop in income as regular donors struggle financially.

Seven staff members will lose their jobs if the charity shuts down and a therapy centre for people with mental-health problems and learning difficulties will also be forced to close.

Sanctuary manager Jenny Gray said: “Because of the recession, people are withdrawing their donations and coming to us and saying that they can’t afford to make them any more.

“More people are also saying that they can’t afford to look after their own animals any more and we then have to take them in.

“Other sanctuaries are also shutting their doors so we’ve never had this volume of calls before, not just from the local area, but from all over the UK.

“Also, because of the harsh winters we’ve had, the price of hay and food is up because the farmers aren’t making what they need to make.

“In all seriousness, if we don’t raise the money we need, hundreds of animals will have to be put to sleep.

“That’s why we’re appealing for anyone who can afford to donate to do so, or for people to organise a fundraiser to help us.”

Ms Gray says it costs around £15,000 a month to keep the sanctuary operating and is hoping to raise £50,000 to help with running costs through the winter.

Her plea was backed by animal charity OneKind which warned many animal welfare centres are struggling financially.

A spokesman for the charity said: “Many animal centres and sanctuaries are under increasing financial pressure at the moment and this can have a big impact on the care of the animals.

“The impact of the current financial climate is being felt by all charities at the moment, and we fully understand why people are reducing or stopping their donations.

“Everybody is feeling the squeeze but people need to realise that animals depend on us to survive. Even if it’s only a couple of pounds people are stopping, the difference for the animals really can be a case of life or death.”

He added: “It’s very distressing to hear about Willows.”

Ms Gray added the closure of the centre would also have a negative impact on the local community as the specialist therapy centre would be lost.

She said: “The centre is truly unique – we have a therapeutic unit where we work with vulnerable people in our area.

“Our clients include people with severe mental-health difficulties, people with physical and learning difficulties, people suffering from substance misuse and other issues.

“We have been running this for 10 years and it has proved to be very beneficial for everyone who attends.

“We have hundreds of people on our books with a wide range of problems and it really helps them get better. We’re the only place doing something like this.

“If we were to close this would be a major setback for many of those people.”

Ms Gray added the charity has funding for only a further two months before being forced to close.

The news follows a similar threat to Mountains Animal Sanctuary in Forfar which is also struggling with a lack of funding. However, those animals will be rehomed if the sanctuary is forced to close.

Anyone wishing to make a donation to the Willows Animal Sanctuary can do so by visiting the website www.willowsanimals.com or calling 01771 653 112.