Ponies preparing for holidays on the Heath

Exmoor ponies at South Downs.
Exmoor ponies at South Downs.

TOURISTS tend to come to Eastbourne area for their summer break but a group of hoofed holidaymakers will also help out the local landscape.

Five Exmoor ponies will be swapping their winter home on the South Downs for a stint at the RSPB’s Broadwater Warren nature reserve on the border of East Sussex and Kent.

Over the next six months, the hairy visitors will graze their way through grasses, birch, bramble and gorse across the nature reserve to help restore heathland which had been lost over the last 60 years.

The ponies belong to the Sussex Pony Grazing and Conservation Trust and spend most of the year on the South Downs, helping to control rank grasses.

In the spring the ponies are taken off the Downs to allow the spring downland flowers to flourish.

Their visit to the heaths of the High Weald is effectively their summer holiday.

The ponies’ introduction to the reserve has been made possible thanks to funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund through the Weald Forest Ridge Landscape Partnership Scheme, SITA Trust and The Veolia Environmental Trust.

Steve Wheatley, RSPB site manager for Broadwater Warren, said, “Grazing is an important and valuable element of heathland management, with a long history in the High Weald. Exmoor Ponies fulfil this roll superbly.

They get stuck in straight away and they also look perfect in the High Weald landscape.”

The animals are ‘semi-wild’ and have free reign within a 150 acre grazing area.

While enjoying a varied natural diet, they tend to eat around the heather, which enables the heather to grow unhindered. Ponies and horses teeth point forwards which means they can graze as closely as rabbits and be very selective about what they eat.

The ponies need to be checked each day, so the RSPB has worked with the grazing trust to recruit and train a team of volunteers to help.

Each ‘looker’ visits the reserve on a nominated day each month.

“It’s very basic stuff, making sure that there is nothing obviously wrong,” said grazier Monty Larkin, of The Sussex Pony Grazing and Conservation Trust.

“It’s the sort of thing regular visitors can do during their normal walk.”

Jools Granville of SITA Trust said, “We hope this will be the first of many summer holiday visits by the Exmoors.”