Here in Wales we are lucky to have native breeds of hardy Welsh ponies. A common sight when driving through the remote mountain roads of Wales are small herds of shaggy ponies, making a living in these harsh environments.
A good example of these are the Carneddau ponies, who inhabit the Carneddau mountains in Snowdonia National Park. Here you can find montane heath, a rare Welsh habitat, choughs and two of Wales’ highest peaks. Due to the difficult terrain, these ponies survived a cull by Henry VIII, but they are still regularly tested by the harsh climate. Here, natural selection is still in action and only the strongest ponies survive to breed and graze the mountains for another year.
What makes ponies good conservation grazers?
Our hardy native breeds are brilliant for conservation grazing. As proven by the Carneddau ponies, they do well in difficult terrains which can sometimes be tricky for land managers to access with machinery.
They have teeth which point slightly forward, which means that they can graze very close to the ground. This is desirable on sites where a shorter turf is required. For example, mountain or coastal breeding habitat for chough requires short turf for feeding sites.
They are selective grazers and will leave some areas untouched. This can lead to a nice mosaic of habitat, with refuge areas for insects and small mammals. However, they are not afraid to feed on dominant species such as rush, bracken and reeds. At Penmaen Burrows on the Gower Peninsula, a small herd of Gower Hill Ponies have been doing a great job of nibbling and trampling the dominant bracken on the rare dune heath habitat.
Of course, grazing with ponies is not always appropriate, but with experienced advice, pony grazing is a useful management tool. If you are interested in introducing or managing pony grazing and would like help or advice, contact us for more info.