With Christmas quickly approaching it has been all go here at The Lodge and we just wanted to give you all an update on the ongoing work around the reserve. We will do this by uploading several blogs over the next few weeks each focused on an area of habitat management, with our first focusing on our plans for future grazing of the New heath.

Grazing on the New Heath

We are very excited at the prospect of welcoming 4 Dartmoor ponies to The Lodge in May 2020. They will be here for approximately 4 months to provide summer grazing on our New Heath area (19ha) of the reserve. The ponies belong to another charity the Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust (DPHT) and these native, hardy ponies have grown up on the Dartmoor moors and are therefore perfectly conditioned to graze our heathland. These will be semi-wild ponies and we will be asking visitors not to try and feed the ponies as they will be here to help do the job of grazing the heath.

Dartmoor ponies will help to benefit the heathland for wildlife by tackling encroaching bramble, bracken and scrub through grazing and trampling, whilst also creating a diverse structure in the heather which should benefit both heathland invertebrates and birds like woodlark and nightjar.

In preparation for grazing the heath we have had to install the necessary infrastructure to make it suitable and safe. Contractors have been busy erecting a perimeter stock-proof fence around the New Heath. Sweet chestnut posts have been used instead of treated pine posts for their resilience to the corrosive nature of the acid soils. Water pipes have been installed to provide water to two troughs positioned at opposite ends of the heathland. The locations of the troughs have been chosen in sight of viewing mounds on the Buzzard trail, so hopefully visitors will get great views of the ponies in action.

Whilst installing the pipes we took the decision to extend them to reach Natterjack ponds on the New Heath. This means we will have the ability to fill the ponds in dry summers, safeguarding them during the Natterjack toad spawning season, helping them to increase and spread across the reserve.

Over this first summer we will monitor the impact of the ponies so we can adapt future livestock numbers for the benefit of our wildlife.