In a world where tradition meets modern challenges, John Nuttall, who operates a century-old family business of seaside donkey rides in Lincolnshire, has taken a bold step to ensure the welfare of his animals. Faced with the growing issue of childhood obesity, Nuttall has implemented a policy of weighing children before allowing them on the donkeys to ensure they do not exceed the six-stone (38 kg) weight limit.

Nuttall, 61, has been a guardian of this cherished seaside tradition, offering donkey rides to holidaymakers on the beaches of Skegness and Cleethorpes. But with the increasing weight of children, he realized a tough decision was necessary to protect his beloved animals. “We introduced the scales because we noticed that the kids were getting larger,” Nuttall explained. His primary concern is the well-being of his donkeys, ensuring they are not overburdened.

To enforce this, Nuttall has set up scales next to his mobile paddock, accompanied by clear signage indicating the requirements: riders must be under ten years old, shorter than 4ft 6in (1.4m), and within the weight limit. The cost of a ride is £4. “If someone is too heavy, we just say, ‘Can we check you, please?’ If they’re too heavy, that’s it,” Nuttall stated, emphasizing the non-negotiable nature of these rules.

Nuttall’s decision is not without its detractors. Katharine Jenner, director of the Obesity Health Alliance, criticized the public weighing of children, calling it “completely unacceptable.” She argued that the blame for high obesity levels lies with the environment surrounding children, such as unhealthy food and drink options, rather than with the children themselves. Jenner suggested that efforts should focus on improving what children are given rather than embarrassing them about their size.

Despite the criticism, Nuttall remains steadfast. “At the end of the day, they’re my donkeys. You go on fairground rides, and there are height limits, and no one complains. People understand it’s a welfare issue,” he said. Nuttall’s approach underscores a commitment to the welfare of his animals over societal pressures and political correctness.

The statistics paint a concerning picture. Figures from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health reveal that obesity levels among children are alarming, with 9.2% of children aged four to five in England being obese, rising to 22.7% among ten to eleven-year-olds. In East Lindsey, which includes Skegness, NHS data showed that 20% of ten and eleven-year-olds were obese last year.

Nuttall attributes the high levels of obesity to a lack of physical activity compared to previous generations. “I think a lot of it is to do with the internet and stuff like that. Kids don’t have to go outside and kick a ball around; they can play games on a computer. Junk food also contributes to it,” he said. Reflecting on his own children’s active lifestyles, Nuttall lamented the direction in which society is heading.

Despite his license allowing children up to the age of 15 and weighing up to 8st to ride donkeys, Nuttall has set his own stricter rules. He conducts health and safety checks as part of the licensing agreement and assesses each rider for each donkey to prevent any accidents. “If we think the rider is unbalanced or top-heavy, it’s dangerous, and we don’t want any insurance claims,” he stated.

Nuttall’s policy serves as a necessary measure to preserve the well-being of his animals while continuing a beloved tradition. “Some children are just too big to ride a donkey. My donkeys work hard enough for me. The welfare of the animals has to come first,” he concluded.

In an era where the welfare of animals and the preservation of traditions often clash with modern societal issues, John Nuttall’s stance exemplifies a commitment to maintaining balance, ensuring that his donkeys are treated with the care and respect they deserve.