Spindlestone SSSI lies to the south of the Lindisfarne NNR adjacent to Budle Bay. It consists of a mosaic of sites all of which are outcrops of the Whin Sill, a band of igneous rock which stretches from Yorkshire to the Farne Islands. The soils are generally thin and have a range of flora including calcicoles with typical species including maiden pink, rockrose, purple milk vetch, spring cinquefoil and chives.
Lindisfarne site managers, in conjunction with the owners, have for some time been seeking the optimum management solution for a part of the site known as South Hill. The whole field is designated, although the main interest has been confined to outcrops near the southern edge. Sheep grazed the whole area but had a propensity for loafing (and consequently dunging) on and around the outcrops presumably due to comfortable horizontal ledges and cool updraughts of air. Damage was particularly acute in dry warm weather.
A management agreement with the owner improved the situation in that the outcrops could be seasonally fenced off with temporary (electric) fencing. Subsequently a stewardship agreement was entered into (1999) which saw the whole southern end of the field permanently fenced with sheep allowed in as necessary to graze the seasonal flush. This happened with limited success in 2000.
The Lindisfarne site manager had simultaneously been investigating the possibility of using ponies at a nearby wetland NNR Newham Bog. Two local Exmoor ponies were borrowed in 1999 with great success, although for a limited period due to ground condition. EPIC was contacted and Margaret Mackintosh kindly arranged the long-term loan of two ponies. The question arose as to a holding area when Newham was too wet. The site at Spindlestone was inspected and considered suitable - possibly too suitable as it was still largely commercial sheep pasture!!
The two ponies were put onto the site (approx. 2 ha.) in October 2000 and have remained there ever since. The result is that there has been a dramatic increase in flowering plants over the whole area, not just the outcrops, with rockrose widespread and even splashes of maiden pink. Such a display had not been witnessed in the last ten years and was certainly not expected in such a short period of time.
Although management was undertaken to exclude the ponies from the outcrops during the flowering season this has probably been unnecessary and will not occur next year. The ponies have shown little desire to loaf or to dung around outcrops presumably because these are not conducive to larger animals.
The only negative attribute is that during the wet winter small patches of ground were disturbed with a subsequent increase in thistle. This slight problem however is vastly outweighed by the great improvements in the site.
Thanks must go to the owners, Charles and John Baker-Cresswell for their help, to FRCA for facilitating the scheme and to EPIC.
For more information contact Lindisfarne NNR - firstname.lastname@example.org