Sunday, 1 July 2012

Updates on conservation grazing at the Heath

Knettishall Heath currently has 11 Exmoor Ponies and 10 Dartmoor Ponies carrying out conservation grazing throughout the reserve, as well as some young cattle from a local grzieer on the wet meadows bordering the river.
Dartmoor Ponies grazing at Knettishall Heath
Many of you may have noticed that we have had some recent livestock movements at Knettishall Heath, namely with the Exmoor Ponies. On Monday June 11th we had the vet and farrier visit for the day to do their 6 monthly checks and so this meant rounding up what were all the 14 Exmoors from the main Heathland enclosure. Staff had previously set up a round-up pen at the Southern end of the enclosure over a week before hand to help get the ponies used to the sight of it.

With the expertise of the Trust's livestock manager the ponies were calmly gathered into the pen. Whilst waiting for the vet and farrier this also gave staff and volunteers a chance to get a rare closer look at the ponies and get to know their various identities and characters. When they are grazing out on the Heath you will ususally never get within touching distance of these Exmoors, which is what makes them the perfect species to handle the amount of visitors that Knettishall attracts; they are usually fairly aloof of most things whether it be a dog walker or groups of school children, and this way they stay out of trouble!

On the day the farrier checked and/or treated all 14 Exmoor Ponies as helpers carefully saw them one at a time through the gate system into the pens (pictures above and right). 3 of the Ponies were then herded into the horse box to be taken back to the 'livestock HQ' at the Coast for paper work to be updated and for specific dieting!  However the grazing pressure now needs to be taken slightly off the vegetation in the main heathland block and so only the next 6 were let back onto the Heath for continued grazing. The remaining 5 were to be moved down the reserve slightly to the enclosure that hadn't been grazed since the Council used it last year. This Eastern grassland block (seen below right) had flourished well with the Spring Flush and was now ready to be grazed for a while, and this is where you will now find the remaining 5 Ponies (see picture below left). Access to third enclosure is though the gate on the far side via the Woodland Trail; the gate nearest the car park and road has to be locked as it it is not livestock friendly and may cause an escape. The project for a new full access gate here is currently being worked on.

It is essential that conservation grazing is appropriately managed at Knettishall Heath to ensure the flora is neither over or under grazed, and so livestock movements around the site in the future will not be that uncommon. However the management of this reserve is all about creating that perfect balance between people and wildlife, and it is worth saying that no matter what happens with the livestock, no new
restrictions will be imposed on the site for visitors other than those already inplace. These are simply that we ask visitors to be respectful of the livestock by monitoring children and dogs, and that by law dogs must be on leads on the open Heath between 1st March and 31st July due to ground nesting birds. We know people enjoy visiting the site and seeing the ponies, but that it is also a great place to walk your four pawed friends, so look out for the next blog on our latest project; 'Hounds of the Heath' our new canine community!

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