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National Trust – Pony Checkers

Are you a keen walker? Would you like to do something to help your local conservation efforts?

Would you be interested in becoming a volunteer pony checker?

I’m just back from checking up on two hardy souls who have been part of our conservation team for over a decade.  They’re called Fred and Ginger and they are shetland ponies.  We have 13 ponies grazing across the property; 2 shetlands, 5 Dartmoors and 6 mini-shetlands.

They are essential to our management of grassland and meadow because they control the growth of the vegetation.  By grazing vigorous grasses, browsing young blackthorn and scrub and trampling bracken, a balance of vegetation is maintained.  We do cut meadows and flail scrubby areas, but the ponies are out there all day every day keeping things in check.

Without these large grazing herbivores our grassland sites would be overcome with bramble and scrub, their activities influence the ecosystem, so they are very important team members.

Their presence changes the biodiversity of these sites.  They have dust bath areas that create bare patches of earth – essential to some beetles. They paw the ground, turning biomass over and trampling it back into the soil.  Their hoofprints squash seeds into the earth.  Their dung provides food and habitat for beetles, flies and other invertebrates, whom in turn feed the local mammals and birds.  They push through scrub, creating walkways, small rides and longer edges, which allow for birds to penetrate the growth, and find suitable nesting sites.  Sunshine reaches and warms the ground along these pathways benefitting basking butterflies.

As hardy as these ponies are, staying out year-round in all weathers, we are responsible for their health and well-being. We check on them every day ensuring they are happy, healthy and that they are where they should be.  Once or twice they’ve taken themselves off down the coast path for a brief adventure and to give us the run-around.  Interacting with these gorgeous animals is a lovely part of the job.  They are very pleasant to observe. The Dartmoors are semi-feral and cautious of humans, tails swishing and ears moving when you are nearby.  The shetlands are a little less wary and will often trot over to say hello.

We are looking for volunteers to help us check our equine teams on a regular basis. You would have to commit to walking out to site once a week (you can take dogs).  This site could be The Dodman, Lamsowden, The Jacka, The Blouth or St Anthony Head.  We’d give you full comprehensive livestock checkers training and would always be contactable when you’re out checking.  Get in touch with me if you are a regular walker in any of these areas and would like more information.

We also have other practical volunteering opportunities so please do get in touch if you would like more information: Jen Tyler 01872 501062  jen.tyler@nationaltrust.org.uk.

 

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