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Ponies arrive at Sharpham to assist rewilding

Konik ponies arrive at Sharpham 22.1.24 by Richard Panniers at The Sharpham Trust
© Richard Panniers at The Sharpham Trust

Two ponies have arrived on The Sharpham Estate to help with rewilding.

The Konik ponies are mimicking wild horses that roamed the lands thousands of years ago. Nibbling and browsing vegetation and keeping a check on plant growth naturally.

The ponies join Belted Galloways and Mangalitza pigs as part of a National Lottery Heritage Fund project Wild For People – restoring nature on former farmland near Totnes, South Devon.

How do grazers help rewilding?

Our landscape evolved with the help of the animals that lived within it. Ancient livestock shaped the land by eating plants, fertilsing and disturbing the land. Wild boar that used to inhabit Britain turned over the soil seeking tasty roots to eat thus simultaneously enabling plants to seed easily and therefore adapting the land. Aurochs (a now-extinct type of ancient cow) and Tarpans, ancient wild horses, browsed and nibbled on brambles, shoots, samplings and shrubby vegetation.

if we can do that at the same time as supporting biodiversity, then that’s a real win-win

By doing so, they acted as ‘nature’s pruners’, preventing certain plants from dominating and allowing space for other species to thrive. The grazers’ manure naturally fertilised the ground, ensuring soil-health & food for insects. Those insects were food for birds and small mammals, which were food for larger prey, weaving a rich ‘tapestry’ of nature. By bringing in modern-day equivalents to ancient grazers, rewilding at Sharpham gets an enormous boost.

Konik ponies are from Poland and are descendants of very hardy Eastern European ponies. These two are called Sylvi and Stella and have been donated to Ambios by Wildwood – a native species conservation charity, with visitor nature parks in Devon and Kent. The ponies are both 15 years old and have spent their lives grazing on nature conservation projects in the UK.

How passers-by can support the ponies

The rewilding fields run either side of a permissive path linking Totnes to Ashprington, frequented by walkers, cyclists and dog-walkers. Passers-by can support the charity’s rewilding efforts by not entering the fields and by keeping dogs on leads and out of the fields too. People should NOT feed the ponies as this will disrupt their digestive systems.

Nature’s restoration continues at SharphamSharpham Trust Logo

The rewilding project on the Sharpham Estate began four years ago with a £177,000 grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Fifty acres of conventional farmland has been converted to rewilding fields, thanks to a partnership between Ambios Ltd (a nature conservation training organisation) and The Sharpham Trust – the nature-mindfulness charity that operates the Sharpham Estate.

We are delighted, this has been a long time coming

During the time of the Wild for People project:

  • Soil health has improved due to discontinued artificial fertilisers and pesticides

  • There’s been boosted numbers of great green bush crickets, perching birds like stonechats & linnets. Small mammals like shrews and voles and larger birds that feed off them including barn owls and kestrels.

  • Hedgerows have expanded into fields, providing increased shelter and nesting/breeding sites for wildlife

  • The fields have changed from short, artificially-fertilised grass monoculture to tussocks of more diverse grasses. These provide cover and breeding/feeding sites for insects and animals

  • Mangalitza pigs, mimicking wild boar, have turned over lots of the rewilding fields. This opens up the soil and assisting wildflower seeds to set

  • Belted Galloway cattle, mimicking ancient Aurochs, have browsed and nibbled vegetation, fertilising the land naturally

  • Trees have been planted, adding to biodiversity, helping to hold the land together and sucking up rainwater

  • The Sharpham Estate has been officially designated an organic estate

  • Nature events have been hosted at Sharpham helping locals, families, schoolchildren and ‘citizen scientists’ to connect with the rewilding land

Pony power will help rewilding

We are delighted, this has been a long time coming. 4 years in the making, and actually it feels like bringing wild ponies back to these lands. Connecting with our ancient ancestors, and with natural landscapes from centuries ago,” said Jack Skuse, rewilder and Ambios director.

The addition of ponies will have a major impact on the structural diversity of the vegetation – grazing the tall grasses and woody hedgerows plants – which in turn encourages greater biodiversity. This will offer vital, missing habitat for wildlife.

For example, horses wallow in dry, sandy patches, which support insects who need these small sandy patches for breeding. Their addition will, we hope, support nature recovery at Sharpham, and bring missing wildlife back

Sharpham Trust Director Julian Carnell said that rewilding The Sharpham Estate illustrated the charity’s ethos perfectly, and highlights the need to support nature.

We want to make a more mindful and sustainable world and we’re doing our bit at Sharpham,” he said. “We called the project ‘Wild for People’. Recognising that rewilding has to involve people and connect them back to the land.

“When people are connected to nature, they’re much less likely to want to harm it. So if we can do that at the same time as supporting biodiversity, then that’s a real win-win”.

Around 1500 people a year come from all over the UK to stay on mindfulness retreats at The Sharpham Trust.

Each retreat incorporates nature-connection techniques and retreat-participants can access the rewilding land to witness the flora and fauna there.

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