To say it has been very hot recently is an understatement. Record temperatures were smashed in many places right across the UK with highs of over 40 degrees. Just a couple of days of that heat would have been manageable for us at the reserve, but it is the lack of rainfall in a very long time that is proving to be the most difficult situation to work with. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be rain forecast expected any time soon.
Visiting the gardens or simply walking around the reserve, it is obvious how dry it is, with grass crunching with each step. Many of our ponds’ water levels have dropped dramatically and several have dried completely.
The extreme heat and lack of rain reduces the amount of food available and influences the birds and other wildlife you’ll see at the reserve. Whereas fully wild animals can move to pastures new, rebuild their homes or even choose different food sources, our six heathland grazing ponies, generously loaned to us by the Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust (DPHT), don’t have that freedom.
Our Dartmoor ponies have been hard at work all spring and summer, doing a tremendous job on the reserve, eating and trampling vegetation, helping to create a healthy heathland. Our dedicated team of pony checkers have ensured they have had great care during their stay. The ponies have plenty of shade under bushes and trees, and the water troughs are kept full, but they are semi-wild animals and reliant on natural vegetation for food.
As a resilient breed they might cope until the return of rainfall and fresh growth for them to eat, but for the time being there’s no sign of rain, and without rain their food plants aren’t growing. We don’t want to put their well-being at risk, so have had to adjust our plans. After speaking to DPHT, we have agreed that the ponies will return to Dartmoor early. The date is Saturday 30th July, but this is dependent on it being cool enough to transport them.
We had hoped to keep them on site for longer this year, but we hope you all understand our reasons. Please do visit in the next few days if you haven’t seen them yet!
Just a reminder – please do not feed them! We have planned their return so that they leave well before they run out of food. Feeding them won’t help them do their work on the heath and could harm their health. We look forward to seeing them back early next Spring.