Dartmoor ponies released onto Bicton Common

IMG_2747smallOn the 27th March 25 Dartmoor ponies were relocated from their hilly homeland to Bicton Common. Several will have GPS trackers which will help us to clarify how a centuries-old method of managing heathland vegetation with grazing animals enhances nature and wildlife habitats. As part of this conservation grazing project we undertook studies on the vegetation and some key wildlife groups last year to provide a baseline to monitor grazing impacts. Grazing will be excluded from control areas to enable comparisons to be made between grazed and ungrazed sites to better understand the impact of the animals.  The data will help inform a long-standing debate around the value of grazing animals to the biodiversity of an area.

 The ponies have been loaned by Charlotte Faulkner of the Dartmoor Hill Pony Association, and they are ideally suited to conservation grazing because they are used to a diet which involves foraging, searching for the most nutritious food and picking through the heathland grasses and nibbling at the gorse and brambles. They are hardy and have been bred for generations to thrive on Dartmoor.

The practice of grazing animals on the Pebblebed Heaths dates back centuries when commoners brought their livestock to graze. Along with the cutting of wood and peat for fuel, heather for bedding and gorse for fodder, the commoners and their stock kept the ever encroaching scrub at bay, helping initially to create and then preserve the unique landscape.

In recent decades the Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust has proactively managed the heathland with controlled burning, gorse coppicing, scrub clearance, bracken control. Grazing has also been used in small discrete areas. In essence the Trust has been replicating the practices of the commoners of old with modern techniques. The expansion of grazing on Bicton Common should allow management to become more sustainable, with the allied research allowing the Trust to contribute to the growing body of scientific evidence on this subject.

Feedback from the public who use the Common has been very positive to date, with most visitors enjoying seeing the ponies on the heaths.

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