‘Quirky’ Suffolk and ‘long-legged’ Shire help protect homes from flooding

  • Two rare breed horses have lent their strength to a flood protection project at a country park.

    Chelmsford-based Hawthorn Heavy Horses’ 16.2hh Suffolk, Roy, and 18.2hh Shire Joe provided their assistance last week at Essex County Council’s new natural flood management scheme at Thorndon Country Park, Essex.

    Roy and Joe replaced machinery by pulling logs into the park, a protected woodland, where ‘leaky dams’ are being installed on two tributaries at Old Hall Pond. The dams are a form of natural flood management which helps allow the slow flow of water in times of heavy rainfall and reduce flood risk to residential properties downstream in West Horndon.

    Matt Waller, who runs Hawthorn Heavy Horses with his wife Claudia, told H&H 10-year-old Roy and 16-year-old Joe know their jobs well.

    “We’ve had Roy since he was two, he started his training and began working commercially at five. There’s not many Suffolks who work commercially, they tend to be more used for showing and riding, so it’s nice to be supporting the breed in this way,” he said.

    “Roy is very steady and he’s quite quirky. He likes his food and will stop and take a nibble on something at any opportunity he can.”

    Matt said Roy and Joe each have their own “little specialisms”.

    “Joe has longer legs so he works faster over long distances whereas Roy is a bit slower so we use him for shorter work. Roy is also used for the steeper work; because he’s two hands shorter he’s got a better sense of gravity to get up and down and is more comfortable doing that than Joe.”

    Matt Butcher, project lead and environment manager for the Environment Agency, told H&H heavy horses were a perfect fit for the work at the sensitive woodland site.

    “Using dump trucks and excavators could have caused a lot of damage whereas using heavy horses meant we could get right into the tightest woodland that we needed to without leaving a trace,” he said.

    “The horses are usually used for logging and pulling trees out of the woods but we asked them to pull the logs into the woods so we were using the skills they already had and applying them in a slightly different way.”

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    Matt said the horses had been an excellent addition to the project and the council plans to work with Hawthorn Heavy Horses on other projects in future.

    “The park is a really popular open space and with it being half-term we’ve had lots of interest from people with their children interacting with the horses and learning about them,” he said.

    “It’s been a real talking point and allows people to come into contact with horses doing something you don’t see every day.”

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