As you may remember reading in this blog, we’ve had plans here at RSPB The Lodge to have some new four-hooved team members join the reserve for quite some time. While Covid-19 put our plans for Spring 2020 on hold, we’re delighted to announce that six Dartmoor ponies joined our reserve this April and have set to work grazing the heath.

Teaming up with the Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust, the ponies, named Kevin, Podkin, Pook, Barramoor Tom, Black Magic and Roger, arrived at our site earlier this month to help to restore the nature reserve through their natural grazing habits.

 

Image: our ponies arriving at The Lodge. Credit: Ben Andrew

Why are the ponies at the Lodge?

Dartmoor ponies are prized for their hardiness, even temperament, and ability to eat plants that other ponies and horses might balk at. Their day to day habits of browsing vegetation and trampling it as they go will help prevent plant life taking over the heathland here at The Lodge, creating a range of different habitats for invertebrates and making the reserve an even more attractive home for everything from bugs to birds.

Not only this, but Dartmoor ponies tend to poo in the same area, creating ‘latrines’ which attract a whole host of invertebrates and insects to nest and lay their eggs in. These are, in turn, food for reptiles and bird too – the power of pony poo for conservation!

We are so excited to have Dartmoor ponies on the reserve to benefit wildlife in this way, as before their arrival, we had to mimic much of these habitats and natural processes using diggers and mowers. Other sites across the RSPB’s reserve network have already made great use of Dartmoor ponies in this way, including RSPB Minsmere and RSPB Labrador Bay.

We can’t wait to see how they reinvigorate the reserve and are hopeful that their work as the newest recruits here could benefit birds such as woodlark and nightjar to name but a few.

Image: the 6 ponies beginning to graze the heath. Credit: Beth Aucott

Can we visit the ponies at the Lodge?

Our 6 new recruits will be hard at work grazing the heath, but you might be lucky enough to spot them from the footpath around New Heath. The ponies’ water troughs are also in sight of viewing mounds on the Buzzard trail, so hopefully visitors will get great views of the ponies in action.

These native, hardy ponies have grown up on the Dartmoor moors and are therefore perfectly conditioned to graze our heathland. They are semi-wild ponies however, so we ask that visitors don’t try and feed the ponies as this can be damaging to their health. Feeding or trying to pet the ponies may also scare them or encourage them to approach visitors to the nature reserve - they have plenty of the right foodstuffs right here at the reserve and are best admired from a distance, so please give them plenty of space.

The ponies have settled right in and will be with us until the end of Summer when they will return to their Dartmoor home. In the meantime, we hope you’ll enjoy seeing our new additions as much as we are enjoying having them here!

Image: a pony grazes at The Lodge. Credit: Ben Andrew

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