Keeping it natural - grazing animals help manage wetland at Wildwood Escot
PUBLISHED: 07:00 11 March 2020
Wildwood Escot is known for conserving native animal species, but its latest newcomers also have a job to do.
A group of ponies and sheep have been brought in to graze the park's wetland area, as a natural way of controlling the scrubby plants and brambles growing there.
The Konig ponies and Soay sheep are naturally suited to this environment, and their grazing will create a 'patchwork' of habitats, enabling more wildlife species to thrive.
Wildwood Escot's general manager George Hyde explained that the management of the eight-acre wetland site was becoming a problem as scrub and brambles started to take over.
It was too much for gardeners to tackle by hand, but mechanical equipment was not the answer.
'The use of heavy machinery within an environmentally sensitive area can sometimes cause more harm than good and potentially damage the habitat,' he said.
'There can also be considerable costs involved, not just the cost of the machines but the staff time needed to operate them.
'We felt the natural approach to managing the reserve was needed, and after hearing about the good work of the Konik ponies and Soay sheep from our sister organisation the Wildwood Trust in Kent, we decided to trial conservation grazing.'
The Konik pony breed originates from Poland, but has been back-bred to resemble the wild horse that once roamed the UK.
The species is used to wet conditions.
The Soay sheep is the most primitive of British sheep and originates from the Island of Soay, St Kilda which is located off the Western Isles of Scotland.
It is an exceptionally hardy breed that can survive in the most adverse conditions, with minimal human intervention.
Wildlife surveys of the wetland area concluded that many more species will benefit from the conservation grazing.
With the seasonal variation in diets among the ponies and sheep, the more scrubby plant species will be targeted during the winter months.
Ongoing monitoring of the reserve, including wildlife and habitat surveys, will highlight the changes over time, with the results feeding into the development of the project.
Other grazers may eventually join the ponies and sheep, as a varied species mix provides a range of grazing techniques and in turn creates a varied habitat.