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A much-loved donkey was found drowned in a ditch in Norfolk late on Monday afternoon (23 March).

Punchy (pictured) was a favourite among the visitors to Felbrigg Hall, the National Trust property where she had lived for 40 years.

The donkey had been retired to a home off the estate five years ago and was partially sighted and deaf.

Early on Monday morning it was discovered the gate to her field was open and Punchy and the other animals had escaped.

A local alerted Devon-based charity the Donkey Sanctuary, which put an appeal for Punchy’s safe return up on its Facebook page.

Thousands of people saw the organisation’s posts, prompting a huge search for her in the area.

But later that day a National Trust warden from Felbrigg Hall came across Punchy lying dead in a ditch. It is thought she had stumbled in and drowned.

“Everyone was very fond of her. When she lived at Felbrigg all the visitors used to say hello to her. We don’t know how it happened,” Eleanor Akinlade, general manager at Felbrigg Hall told H&H.

“It is slightly mysterious and very upsetting.”

The previous owners of Felbrigg Hall, the Ketton-Cremers, had always kept donkeys at the Norfolk estate.

After Punchy’s companion, Judy, died five years ago, Punchy had been rehomed at a new property not far away.

“Donkeys are amazing escape artists, just because Punchy was partially sighted doesn’t mean she could not have escaped. We have no way of knowing what happened,” said a spokesman for the Donkey Sanctuary.

A Donkey Sanctuary supporter, Evelyn Mackie, was so touched by the story she has named her foal, which was born on 23 March, in memory of Punchy.

The Donkey Sanctuary looks after 2,500 donkeys on farms in the UK and has another 1,500 in foster homes.

For more information visit: www.thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk