Exmoor Ponies in Conservation

An 'Exmoor Ponies in Conservation' project

Exmoor Ponies and their role in conservation

Gait Barrows National Nature Reserve

Winter Quarters of the Gait Barrows Herd

The nature reserve is at the centre of the Arnside and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It was established in 1977 to protect one of the most important areas of limestone pavement in Britain. It covers 117 hectares (288 acres) and is owned and managed by English Nature. The warden is Rob Petly-Jones.

Within the reserve there are two bodies of water, Little Hawes Water and Hawes Water. It is around these lakes that are found the pastures where the Gait Barrows Exmoor Ponies spend much of their year. They were introduced onto the reserve as part of the grassland management strategy. When the cattle have finished grazing the pasture in the summer, they leave all the rank, coarse grass.

This is Truda's foal, Kitty, born in November 1998

The Exmoors move in from November to March and consume this vegetation with relish, restoring the even sward that is so essential to encourage the growth of the marsh orchid, the common spotted orchid and the ragged robin which are found in these damp pastures. This in turn encourages many insects by providing a greater variety of larval food plants and nectar sources for the adults.

The ponies are also being used to restore areas of grassland where lack of grazing in the past has lead to the invasion of scrub and rank herbs. Many footpaths cross the reserve and the ponies continue to endear themselves to the many walkers who enjoy the area.