You may have read about it on social media or heard from one of our team on-site already, but our team of 6 handsome Dartmoor ponies have returned. Thanks to the Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust, Kevin, Pook, Thomas, Black Magic, Roger and Podkin have all returned for another year. This group of fantastically named ponies aren’t here for a holiday though and we are putting them to work!

The Lodge Reserve is a special place for several reasons, but one of its appealing characteristics is its heathland – a rare habitat in this part of the country. For the most part, this heathland was not here when RSPB acquired the site and has instead been carefully coaxed back by staff and volunteers over the decades.

By recreating heathland in this area, we aim to provide a haven for specialised birds such as Dartford warblers and nightjars, as well as other species such as natterjack toads. This can be arduous work though, with a lot of manpower focused on seeding and clearing the area; this is where our team of four-legged friends can help!

Dartmoor pony on heathland

Dartmoor ponies are a native breed and are very hardy, able to cope with the variety of conditions they are likely to experience. That hardiness also makes them ideal workers as they are more than happy to eat plants other ponies might struggle with. Encroaching birch saplings, bramble and grass can quickly overwhelm the heathland, but the ponies will keep them in-check through grazing. Even just wandering around, they will trample bracken that might otherwise threaten to overrun the heathland.

The benefits do not stop there either! The manure from the ponies will help invertebrates and fungi develop on the heathland as well. Dartmoor ponies often poo in concentrated areas, which will allow populations of insects to thrive, providing food for other species.

To summarise, these 6 ponies will allow us to:

  • Keep encroaching vegetation off the heathland
  • Encourage a more diverse array of wildlife to thrive at the site
  • Save time, money and effort by reducing human-led land management

All of that is achieved by supporting a declining native breed, to simply do what it naturally wants to do!

After last year’s success, we are delighted that the ponies will be able to stay at the reserve for longer this year. You will be able to see them working the heathland until around September/October this year. The exact date for when they leave will be dependent on weather conditions, as a drought might kill off a lot of their food supply.

A dramatic pose from a pony

The best way to spot the ponies is from the Buzzard Trail. We even have a raised viewing mound that overlooks a water trough - a fantastic spot to see them. These are semi-wild ponies though and we would like to remind everyone to not feed or touch the ponies. Doing so might scare them or even make them ill – a scared pony might kick or bite and even food like apples can cause colic. Like with other species at the reserve, we ask you to enjoy them respectfully and at a distance.

We do hope you get the opportunity to come and see them in action. Please do keep sending us your favourite photos of them as well, we love to see them!

Vincent Wright

Visitor Engagement Manager, The Lodge & Fowlmere

Photos courtesy of Robin Gilmore