Fell Ponies and Conservation Grazing

The Kerbeck Fell Ponies graze to improve habitat for butterfly breeding. Courtesy Christine Robinson

The Kerbeck Fell Ponies graze to improve habitat for butterfly breeding. Courtesy Christine Robinson

This article originally appeared in the April 2015 edition of Fell Pony News from Willowtrail Farm.

Fell Ponies are being used as conservation grazers in parts of their native terrain.  At least three different conservation organizations have found Fells to be appropriate partners in conservation efforts. 

Here is a description about the work being done by Nicola Evans’s ponies:

“The Helm is a prominent hill near Oxenholme, south east of Kendal. The landscape conservation charity Friends of the Lake District [FLD] own 66 acres here and have Fell ponies grazing to carry out vital conservation work.  The Fell ponies remove the grass growth, helping to keep an open sward for wild flowers to flourish.” (1).

The area is being managed under a Higher Level Stewardship Scheme with the aim of improving the structure and species diversity of the grassland sward. The area is acid grassland with gorse scrub and some wetter rushy and fen areas around a small tarn. The FLD receive a supplement for having registered native breed animals there which also contribute to the gene pool, i.e. will be used for breeding.” (2)

The Kerbeck Fell Ponies owned by Christine Robinson are another herd that is being used as conservation grazers:

“Christine Robinson's ponies have been grazing land for the National Trust (NT) near Ennerdale in August and September for the last three years. Last year she was asked to leave the ponies on a little longer to ensure that the seeds from the plants that attract the native butterflies were well paddled into the ground.” (3)

The Thorpe family has worked with Natural England and United Utilities to put their hill farm into a ten year environmental stewardship scheme.  Their Wellbrow Fell Ponies and Galloway cattle are grazing a 49 hectare enclosure on their farm “to improve the habitat for bird life; encourage the growth of bog mosses, in particular sphagnum moss; and also to contribute towards the genetic conservation of native breeds at risk.” (4)

These accounts of successful use of Fell Ponies for conservation grazing are encouraging for at least three reasons:  1) that Fell Ponies have been found both available and suitable for the work, 2) that there are incentives for using breeding herds of British native ponies for the work, and 3) two conservation organizations have had good experiences with the breed.

  1. Walker, Eileen.  “Meet the Pony Day at The Helm, Oxenholme,” The Fell Pony Society Magazine, Autumn 2014 volume 29.  The Fell Pony Society:  Appleby, Cumbria, England, p. 79.

  2. Simpson, Claire.  “People and Ponies:  Conservation Grazing with Fells,”  The Fell Pony Society Magazine, Autumn 2012, volume 25.  The Fell Pony Society, Great Asby, Appleby, Cumbria, England, p. 75

  3. Same as #2.

  4. Thorpe, Andrew.  “Wellbrow Fell Ponies and Conservation Grazing,” The Fell Pony Society Magazine, Spring 2016 Volume 32, p. 66.