Fifteen Dartmoor ponies have been given a new role as conservation grazing animals on Norfolk Heathland.

The herd includes youngsters, Sherberton Samson and Sherberton Steele, and arrived from five different Dartmoor pony breeders in Devon.

The ponies range from one to six years old and will join the existing herd in delivering Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s (NWT) conservation programme across their nature reserves, including East Wretham Heath and sites managed on behalf of Forestry England under the Brecks Heath Partnership.

The rare native ponies thrive on coarse vegetation and provide a natural way to manage wildlife habitats. As selective grazers, they can create a variety of different heights and species of vegetation, preventing delicate habitats from becoming dominated and overgrown.

This benefits a range of vulnerable Norfolk wildlife species including grayling butterflies, Breckland speedwell, stone curlew and nightjar.

Foals Sherberton Samson and Sherberton Steele join the herd. Credit: Equi Phoenix Ltd

“This is another great opportunity for us to protect Norfolk’s biodiversity and help secure the future of a rare native pony breed,” said NWT Nature Conservation Manager, Jonathan Preston.

“As well as faring well on the mixed mire and heath sites of Norfolk – areas not dissimilar to Dartmoor – these ponies thrive on the grass heaths of the Norfolk Brecks, where other livestock have tended to lose condition.

“It is important to maintain the ponies’ wildness, because if they become too tame, they can become overly-friendly to the public on our nature reserves rather than carry out important conservation grazing. Just be sure to keep your distance if you spot any wild ponies when you’re out and about, as they are true free spirits!”

Dru Butterfield, Company Director for Equi Phoenix Ltd, who sourced the ponies, said they were thrilled that NWT was using Dartmoor ponies.

“By providing a variety of ages and family lineage helps create a healthy, happy herd, and one that is more resistant to disease,” she said. “And, like in all communities, the younger ponies will learn from the older animals, which results in varied and productive grazing at NWT’s conservation sites.

The ponies are selective grazers and thrive on coarse vegetation. Credit: Matt Wickens

“This is a very valuable sale of our animals, supporting a healthy future for the very special Dartmoor ponies, and continuing to provide a livelihood to the passionate pony keepers here in Dartmoor.

“Equi Phoenix Ltd provides a single contact point, making it easier for land managers to source quality stock, along with expert support, advice and training.”

NWT said it was committed to supporting the rare breed, and its Dartmoor pony herd is now 134-strong.

Lead image by Matt Wickens

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