New Forest ponies are helping a local council save money and improve the habitat of a clifftop common.

Six ponies loaned by local commoners are grazing on New Milton Town Council’s 42-acre Barton Common near Barton-on-Sea.

At nearby Ballard Water Meadow ten Dexter cattle borrowed from a local farmer have also been introduced.

The grazing project, run in conjunction with Natural England and the New Forest Land Advice Service, is part of the Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) scheme.

The ponies and cattle will graze the sites for three months until November, then go back to their owners for the winter, returning to continue the project in the spring.

Town clerk Graham Flexman said the project will save the council around £3,000 a year and increase biodiversity.

Previously machinery was bought in to cut the grass on the two sites for hay but it had become unviable.

“We weren’t in the business of making hay and the hay had too much weed in it to sell,” said Mr Flexman.

The sites are expected to have a more diverse habitat with greater variety of dragonflies, hoverflies and wetland and heathland plants as a result of the new grazing regime.