This article originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of Fell Pony News from Willowtrail Farm.
One might assume that British native ponies such as the Fell would be logical choices as conservation grazers where such grazers are needed. Especially when such grazers are needed in the native ponies’ home terrain. Not always, though, as Heidi Sands documented after visiting a reserve in Aberdeenshire in Scotland.
Prior to going to Strathbeg I couldn't understand why on earth they'd use Polish ponies in preference to using British native breeds (especially Scottish ones as it's in Scotland) but having been and seen the set up and their aim at Strathbeg it all becomes clear….The Konik breed… was successfully brought to Strathbeg for use as a conservation grazer two years ago….After considering other native breeds for the job, the Konik was chosen due to its largely quiet friendly nature and the ability to thrive in the wetland conditions without obvious damage to hooves and lower limbs. At times the ponies wade out belly deep in the water to avail themselves of grazing and are often to be seen moving from sandy spits of land through the wetlands. (1)
Heidi acknowledged in her article that the native pony breeds Eriskay and Kerry Bog may have been good choices for this particular project, but they are likely too rare to be available. Availability is an important criterion in selecting conservation grazers, according to Ian Baker, Chief Land Agent of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (2).
Any of us who have land management responsibilities know the attraction of easy, convenient solutions, so it’s understandable why readily available conservation grazers might be chosen over native breeds that may be local but aren’t necessarily easy to find or manage. Certainly, though, there’s opportunity here for Fell Ponies, as pictures have been posted on Facebook of Fells wading belly deep in water to find something worth eating!
Sands, Heidi. “Visit to RSPB Reserve,” The Fell Pony Society Magazine, Autumn 2013, Volume 27. The Fell Pony Society: Great Asby, Appleby, Cumbria, England, p. 65.
Murray, David. “Letter to the editor,” The Fell Pony Society Newsletter Spring 2014 Volume 28, Appleby, Cumbria: The Fell Pony Society, p.12.