PRESS RELEASE - DARTMOOR PONY RESEARCH EVIDENCES THE BENEFITS OF EQUINES AS CONSERVATION GRAZERS: AIMS TO INFLUENCE GOVERNMENT POLICY

November 18, 2019

Dartmoor ponies are among the most iconic species of any British moorland but a dramatic decline in population since the 1950s has led to widespread concern about their long-term survival prospects and an urgent requirement to recognise their value as conservation grazers.

 

A research project – the initial findings of which are released today - suggests that ponies not only make a positive contribution to conservation management on Dartmoor, but are also a suitable option for conservation-grazing schemes throughout the country.

 

In response to a request from Defra and Natural England (NE) to the Dartmoor Pony Action Group three years ago, the Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust (DPHT), working with researchers at the University of Plymouth, is undertaking a Research Project at Bellever on Dartmoor.  This project aims to gather scientific evidence to assess some of the benefits of ponies as conservation grazers in creating suitable conditions for a range of biodiversity. 

These data were requested by DEFRA and NE to assist with the planning of future stewardship schemes such as ELMS (Environmental Land Management System) and to help evaluate the contribution of ponies as part of grazing and land management solution. 

As the chosen topic for the Annual Research Lecture hosted yesterday (15 November) by the Dartmoor Society, the DPHT has announced that these initial results have been well received.  A Natural England ecologist has said: “The results of this trial provide good evidence of the positive impact of pony grazing on Molinia.  The study has been shared with Defra and it will form part of the body of evidence that will help to shape the future Environmental Land Management System’.

According to Paul Lunt, Associate Professor of Environmental Science at Plymouth University: “The findings from this study suggest that salt blocks can be used to attract ponies to targeted areas of Molinia-dominated moorland, where other management strategies are not sustainable. The increased grazing and trampling activity of the ponies in these areas can lead to a reduction in sward height and Molinia cover, facilitating increased germination and establishment of Calluna seedlings and plant species diversity. Thus, ponies may provide a suitable option for conservation-grazing schemes, where the desired effect is to reduce Molinia and re-establish Calluna.”

The DPHT has its own Higher-Level Stewardship (HLS) Agreement at Bellever & Lakehead Grazing, near Postbridge, high up on Dartmoor, using Dartmoor ponies for conservation grazing. 

In addition to the findings announced from the Research project, the Charity was delighted when the entire Bellever site was appraised earlier this month by its Natural England Advisor as being highly successful, leading to the recommendation of an extension of its HLS Agreement.

Says Paul Lunt: “This is an interesting site as we have 82ha of moorland grazing within a 540ha block of working Sitka Spruce plantation owned and managed by Forestry England. The ponies are free to roam throughout the open area and into the conifers. Our project was to look at ways to encourage the ponies away from their favoured area of mixed vegetation (short grass and dwarf shrub heath) grazing around Bellever Tor and Laughter Tor, onto an area dominated by coarser Molinia on Lakehead.

“The sustainable management of Molinia, an aggressive and dominant grass which overwhelms less robust species, presents a serious challenge. Changes in management and climate have favoured Molinia and it is a major issue for many upland areas across the UK. Molinia creates a poor habitat and it is very prone to wildfire, which allows it to outcompete other less vigorous plants. 

“The conclusion of the study suggests that ponies are part of the solution to managing Molinia.”

According to Dru Butterfield from DPHT: “Satellite imagery (Google maps) clearly shows new pony tracks appearing through the Molinia as the ponies have changed their spatial pattern of grazing.  Through the project, pony behaviour has undoubtedly changed.  The impact they have made – and continue to make - and how these results could be extended, particularly to ponies on heathland and uplands throughout the country, is very exciting.  It should be sufficient evidence to ensure that suitably hardy ponies of all types and breeds are recognised and appreciated as effective conservation grazers to support biodiversity and tackle some of the factors affecting our landscape such as the dominating Molinia.”

Says Paul: “The project started in 2017 with detailed baseline vegetation data being collected in order to establish initial condition.  The reports produced so far give conclusive evidence of the impact of increased pony activity in the area of Lakehead.  For 2019/2020 we plan to remove the salt blocks and continue to monitor vegetation structure and seedling recruitment to determine if the period of concentrated grazing and disturbance is sufficient to produce a sustained improvement in heathland condition.”  

The research project was designed and agreed with Natural England National Grazing Specialist Dave Martin, with support and guidance from Natural England Principal Adviser, Naomi Oakley.

The University and DPHT also recognise the considerable input of Malcolm Gibb, previously Senior Research Scientist in the Behavioural and Community Ecology Group of The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research.

 

ENDS

 

 

For more information about this news release, or to organise an interview, please contact:

 

Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust’s Clare Stanton on 07885 699802 or email cgs222@btinternet.com

Or

University of Plymouth Media & Communications Officer Alan Williams on 01752 588004 or email alan.williams@plymouth.ac.uk.

 

Notes to Editors

 

The Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust (DPHT)

The DPHT is a registered charity (number 1109196) established in 2005 to protect and conserve the Dartmoor Pony on Dartmoor.  The DPHT works closely with Moorland Pony Keepers, providing services to add value to the ponies through a range of marketing initiatives and by taming feral foals and youngstock, so they can be safely sold to good equine homes.

In addition to its site at Bellever near Postbridge, where it provides free grazing for a herd of registered Dartmoors belonging to Pony Keepers, its purpose-built Centre in Bovey Tracey, Devon, acts as a 'showcase' for the Dartmoor pony.  It is also where the charity carries out its Equine Assisted Learning Programmes using Dartmoor ponies to support a range of life-long learners.

The DPHT is a lead member of the Dartmoor Pony Action Group and frequently provides input to regional and national government organisations and policy.

https://www.dpht.co.uk/

 

About the University of Plymouth

 

The University of Plymouth is renowned for high quality, internationally-leading education, research and innovation.

With a mission to Advance Knowledge and Transform Lives, Plymouth is a *top 50 research university with clusters of world class research across a wide range of disciplines including marine science and engineering, medicine, robotics and psychology. A twice winner of the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher Education, the University of Plymouth continues to grow in stature and reputation.

It has a strong track record for teaching and learning excellence, and has one of the highest numbers of National Teaching Fellows of any UK university. With 18,000 students, and a further 15,000 studying for a Plymouth degree at partner institutions in the UK and around the world, and over 100,000 alumni pursuing their chosen careers globally, it has a growing global presence.

http://www.plymouth.ac.uk

 

* Research Fortnight Research Power League Table 2014.

 

 

Ken and Daf Edwards of Langworthy Farm lent their beautiful and well behaved mare and foal to the RBST stand at Honiton Show.

November 13, 2019

Langworthy Nuthatch was one of our first foals, born to us in 2006, which caused great excitement. We had not lived long on Dartmoor and had just acquired our first mares off the moor. Nutty’s mother was entered into the Duchy Moorland Scheme as an SR1, so she could run with a pedigree stallion (Watt’s Zoar Torr) and we were very pleased to have a filly first time around. SEE THE PDF

All these years later, Nutty has become one of our stalwart mares, having given us eight foals to date. The latest, Langworthy Honeybuzzard (by Moortown Honeyman) came to Honiton Show to grace the Rare Breeds stand with Nuthatch his mother this year. 

The best-known of Nutty’s relatives is her half-sister, Langworthy Swift Ghost, out of the same mare. Langworthy Swift Ghost is off to HOYS this year for the third time. Like Nutty, she is an SR2, which shows how effective and successful the Duchy Moorland Scheme can be for improving quality of ponies on the moor and increasing the gene pool of the registered Dartmoor pony. 

Traditional Dartmoor Pony 

watchlist category Endangered (300-500 breeding females) 

Dartmoor ponies are the native pony breed of Dartmoor, recorded as living on the wild and inhospitable moors since the Middle Ages. They are well adapted to the moorland environment and have the metabolism to prosper in tough and uncompromising conditions. This together with excellent temperament has traditionally made them suitable for both farm work and as riding ponies in all spheres of competition. Despite their small frame they are strong enough to carry an adult. Dartmoor Ponies should not exceed 12.2hh and are well-muscled. They can be bay, brown, black, grey, roan or chestnut in colour, but not skewbald or piebald or with excessive white markings. The modern type of Dartmoor Pony was established at the end of the nineteenth century. The breed was severely threatened during the Second World War when the army used the moor as a training area, but was rescued by committed owners. Later, mechanization forced the breed into another decline. In 1988 the Duchy of Cornwall established the Moorland Scheme to preserve the Dartmoor Pony in its natural environment. This scheme is administered by both the Duchy of Cornwall and the Dartmoor Pony Society who provide help by subsidizing the scheme. It is also supported by the Dartmoor National Park. It has been successful and has slowly increased the "true type" Dartmoor Ponies on the Moor. 

A note about the Duchy Moorland Pony Scheme: 

Ponies in the scheme are inspected by two Dartmoor Pony Society Judges – the criteria being they must be bred on Dartmoor, and owned by a member of the Dartmoor Pony Society with a holding number, within the National Park. These are ponies of true Dartmoor type and whole coloured, but have never been registered in the Society’s Stud Book before for various reasons. Once inspected they come into what is called a Newtake (an enclosed area/parcel of land on the Moor) where they run with a licensed fully pedigree stallion for the summer. The progeny is inspected the following year, again by two Dartmoor Pony Society judges, when ponies are collected at Drift time, and if passed as suitable they move up a grade. Ponies are microchipped by the veterinary surgeon in attendance, and paperwork for Passports completed before they are taken back to the owners farms for winter. The Scheme starts off after inspection with a mare becoming an SR (Supplementary Register), progeny of which becomes SR1 (Supplementary Register1) Female progeny are encouraged to return in to the Newtakes when old enough with a monetary incentive given the first time it returns into the Newtake. The next progeny thus becoming SR2 (Supplementary Register2) with the females once again encouraged to return as the resulting progeny becomes Fully Registered in the main body of the Stud Book. 

Male progeny are usually gelded and become good children’s ponies. 

A Supplementary Register colt may not be used to sire Registered Pedigree Stock nor may it be used as a Stallion in the Newtakes. 

HORSE OF THE YEAR SHOW SUCCESS!!

October 08, 2019

PEDIGREE DARTMOOR PONIES BRED ON DARTMOOR CELEBRATE HORSE OF THE YEAR SHOW SUCCESS

 

It’s believed that a record number of Dartmoor ponies enjoyed a wonderful tally of top placings at the UK’s most prestigious horse show, held last week at the NEC in Birmingham.

 

Particularly special for our local Native pony breed, the Dartmoor, were results that prove that moorland-bred Pedigree Dartmoor ponies can keep up with the best in the world. 

 

Stallion Shilstone Rocks North Westerly, bred by the Newbolt-Young family at Widecombe-in-the-Moor, took Supreme Champion Dartmoor for the third time.  Mare Langworthy Swift Ghost, gained ninth place in The Feed Shed Mountain and Moorland First Ridden pony of the year; and was fifth – and top placed mare - in the National Pony Society/Baileys Horse Feeds Mountain and Moorland Ridden Dartmoor/Exmoor/Shetland Pony of the Year, ridden by 9-year-old Imogen Davis from Coombe Fishacre in Devon and a pupil at Ipplepen Primary School.  In the NPS class, 6 of the first 7 placed ponies were Dartmoors. 

 

Not to be out-shone, Shilstone Rocks-bred ponies Osborne Refrigerators Dollar and Dime whizzed veteran scurry driving star Jeff Osborne round a very tight course to finish 8th in the Osborne Refrigerators Double Harness Scurry of the Year Championship.

 

Swift Ghost (affectionately known as Rabbit) was bred by Ken Edwards at Langworthy Stud, Widecombe and is owned by Lizzie Houghton of Bovey Tracey, who finds time to produce her ponies in between working at Mole Valley at Heathfield!  Rabbit was bred in the Dartmoor Pony Moorland Scheme which is run by the Dartmoor Pony Society and the Duchy of Cornwall.  It enables moorland-bred mares to breed with Pedigree Stallions and the progeny to be ‘upgraded’ through the Dartmoor Pony Society’s Supplementary Register.

 

On Dartmoor there are a variety of ponies – all owned by pony keepers and many of whom have a mixture of these types – ranging from the smallest Shetlands, to a variety of Hill Ponies, through to Supplementary Registered and full Pedigree Dartmoor ponies, all of which survive the tough climate of Dartmoor.

 

The DPHT recognises that all ponies on Dartmoor have a value and encourages people to give them serious consideration as wonderful family ponies or conservation grazers. 

 

 

For further info, please call 01626 833234

Teamwork with Forestry England on Farrier Day!

July 29, 2019

We were recently out at Bellever for a farrier day to trim the hooves of the ponies in our care that make up our conservation grazing herd on site.

We are fortunate to have John Berwick as our farrier and a great team of volunteers to bring the ponies in! We also trimmed tails, cut knots out of manes and checked for ticks etc.

As we turned the ponies out from our catch pen, Tim Powles of Forestry England came to see us and understand better how we care for the ponies on the site that we all hold so dear. He ended up helping us enormously later when we went out to Riddon Ridge to search for a couple of missing ponies and he held traffic for us after we caught one of them and led her all the way back to Bellever Tor!

We believe our ponies escaped due to public access gates not being shut properly- PLEASE check that every gateway you walk or ride or cycle through is fully secure. If you have any concerns at Bellever, please call us on 01626 833234.

Visit from Stairway Group

July 14, 2019

Recently we had a very special group of visitors who wanted to find out about our work and meet our ponies:
STAIRWAYS GROUP

Stairways is a club for adults with learning difficulties, over 18 years of age. Members meet every Friday morning in the Watermark in Ivybridge. Led by a wonderfully committed team of volunteers, they help members with literacy, numeracy and social skills through a variety of projects intended to catch the imagination and stimulate reading, writing and discussion.

Members have enjoyed drama, cookery, art, board games, yoga, tennis and curling lessons – and many other activities. They love going on trips and have walked with alpacas, flown hawks on the moor, visited the Egyptian House in Dobwalls and taken a dog swimming in a canine-hydrotherapy pool -so coming to visit and spend time with the Dartmoor ponies at DPHT was another big outing!

The group makes no charge for membership and provides for the needs of each of its members including providing refreshments.

Sadly, however, Stairways is struggling to recruit volunteer leaders to carry on with group, as those involved now have been running it for a very long time and need to retire or at least reduce their commitment.

Our DPHT volunteers were really touched by the great ethos and friendliness of the Stairways Group – really lovely people. If you can help them, please do contact Group Leader Ann Laity, at alaity9@gmail.com

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The Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust (Registered Charity No. 1109196) was established in 2005 in response to widespread concern about the viability and long-term survival of the traditional Dartmoor pony.

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