EPICENTRE - the newsletter for Exmoor Ponies in Conservation

Exmoor Ponies in Conservation Newsletter

Issue 1 Article 2

DREAMS CAN COME TRUE

Back in the 70's I remember many of us saying that to ensure a safer future for the Exmoor pony population we desperately needed to establish more free-living groups both on Exmoor and elsewhere. The need was of course both to simply enlarge the number of ponies living in natural environments and also to provide insurance in case catastrophe ever hit the main population on Exmoor. At the time, it seemed almost a vain hope; there was little interest in Exmoors generally and they were almost dismissed by conservation bodies because they were not totally wild animals. It was hard not to be depressed about the whole situation.

Two things happened in the early 80's which formed a turning point: firstly, the Exmoor National Park Authority made a practical commitment to aiding the conservation of the Exmoor pony by establishing two breeding herds under its ownership on Exmoor itself; secondly, National Trust warden Geoff Hann decided to graze Exmoors on one of the reserves under his control. His problem was a declining population of early spider orchids which were being overcome by rank tor grass which the cattle and sheep grazing was not controlling.

Within a short time, the Exmoor ponies introduced by Geoff to Seacombe Valley in Dorset were producing the desired result through their grazing of the tor grass; the orchids began to spread. Here was an example of mutual conservation where the ponies were aiding the conservation of the flora and at the same time contributing to their own conservation.

Word spread and here we are a decade later with nature reserves owned by the National Trust, English Nature and several county Wildlife Trusts employing Exmoors as conservation "lawn-mowers". The very formation of this group "Exmoor Ponies in Conservation" is a testament to just how much progress has been made. Hopefully there will be yet more additions to the list of sites.

I am sure that the exchange of information and ideas within EPIC will prove both interesting and useful. There seem to be many positive stories emerging but no doubt there are some testing "challenges" as well. Thinking back to when things looked so bleak it is hard not be to almost overwhelmed by how much everyone has achieved. It took one local Exmoor resident this summer to put it in perspective with the comment "Why is everyone so surprised the ponies are doing such a good job? After all, they've been looking after Exmoor for thousands of years!"

My very best wishes to all those involved in EPIC

by Sue Baker