Gary Hibberd, Warden Holme Dunes
On 16 February ten Dartmoor ponies arrived at Holme Dunes to help us manage our dune slack habitats. Their job: to eat the larger stands of dry grass left from last year's bumper growing season, and create shorter turfs for the growing season ahead. We have in the past used our "Flying Flock" to try and acheive this but found the sheep a little too fussy grazing mostly the shorter vegetation and ignoring the taller stands.
After watching our Konik ponies on the grazing marshes deal with rank vegetation, and creating wet flashes, it was agreed the Dartmoors might be the answer in the dune slacks.
We first met with Holme parish council to discuss the proposal as it was important we had their support, as the area we wanted to graze was part of the Holme common. We all agreed that the common needed to maintain its open features and not become enveloped in ranks grasses and scrub.
The longest job before their arrival was putting up the electric fence to surround eleven acres, and with begged and borrowed equipment and lots of long days from volunteers and staff we got it up the day before their arrival! At this stage we also took lots of photographs they were going to graze, so we could compare the ponies work before and after they left, we also put in a number of quadrats to carefully monitor the plant life throughout the summer.
The animals arrived after a long overnight journey from Dartmoor and were very happy to walk off the lorry and stretch their legs. They soon settled in, and have done some great work by not only munching their way through lots of dry grass but also by creating some bare ground through digging! Bare ground is an important feature of these habitats so it's great to see it being created in a natural way. The ponies are due to leave us on the 2nd April to pastures new at Cawston Heath, so if you do fancy having a look at their work pop along soon.
If we are happy with what they have done for the site they will be returning next winter.