Dartmoor ponies are being put back to work on the land in a new scheme run by the Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust (DPHT).
The trust is using a herd of 26 ponies, all owned by local farmers, to help with the management and conservation of some of the best heath land in Dartmoor.
“The trust leases 82 hectares of moorland from the Forestry Commission at Bellever, but the land is surrounded by conifer plantations, which aren’t native to the area,” explained DPHT manager Dru Butterfield. “So we have to remove saplings that grow in the moorland to encourage the growth of the heather.”
“However, instead of using tractors and quad bikes, we are using native ponies and volunteers — a cleaner, greener way of conserving Dartmoor.”
Volunteers work a pair of ponies to drag felled trees to other areas of the moor and pull a chain harrow to rake and remove the molinia, encouraging the natural heather to regenerate.
“We do have to train the ponies to wear the harness, but they are incredibly placid and calm, very quick learners and just love working,” Dru told H&H.
“They have the least impact on the landscape, and are able to access relatively inaccessible areas. It seems ideal to use the natural residents of the land to carry out conservation.”
Natural England has offered a funding grant, which will pay for the equipment to continue this project for the next ten years.
Dru added: “We are also hoping this will promote the temperament and versatility of the Dartmoor pony, showing that anyone can use and enjoy these ponies even if they are too small to ride.”