Wild ponies prove big success at RSPB Blacktoft Sands nature reserve

Konik Wild Horses
Konik Wild Horses by Gwen Dolen

WRITTEN BY JAMES CAMPBELL
Cross-posted from the Hull Daily Mail

E. YORKS, ENGLAND — The introduction of wild horses at an East Yorkshire reserve is proving a huge success. Four konik ponies are creating homes for a range of wildlife at RSPB Blacktoft Sands near Goole and their introduction is a first for Yorkshire.

They have been grazing on the reserve since November 2011, helping to create suitable habitat for everything from rare beetles to breeding birds.

By chomping their way through dense areas of grass, the ponies have made homes for ground-nesting birds including skylarks and also provided suitable winter feeding grounds for wading birds such as curlews.

Pete Short, Humber reserves manager, said:

“When the ponies arrived at the reserve nearly two years ago, we had high hopes that they would help make Blacktoft an even better place for wildlife.

They have certainly lived up to our expectations, creating great habitat in an eco-friendly way.

They practise this in Holland and we wanted a natural system in place to manage the wetlands.

The ponies help provide a mixture of fenland and reeds, which provides a much richer wildlife habitat.

It is very new and innovative for the UK.”

The ponies have also grazed their way through the reserve’s reedbed, opening up new pools and channels that attract fish and amphibians which, in turn, have provided a banquet for the reserve’s rare and secretive bitterns.

A recent insect survey found that the koniks have also helped to provide homes for more than 300 types of beetle on the reserve, including the elusive crucifix ground beetle, which is now so scarce it is now only found in a handful of places in the UK.

The ponies have become an attraction in their own right for visitors.

Mr Short said:

“While the horses are feral, they are more friendly and gentle than some other wild horses.

We initially had some complaints from bird watchers who felt the horses were disturbing the birds, but that was it.

Now they have proven real characters and a draw for people. Some visitors absolutely love them.”

The konik ponies at Blacktoft form part of Back To The Future, a five-year project aimed at restoring local wetlands to their former glory.

Mr Short said:

“As the koniks are proving such a success at Blacktoft, we hope that in the future they could be used across the Humberhead Levels as a natural method of restoring and maintaining them for wildlife.”

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Wildwood Discovery Park greets first Spring Konik foal; Tuesday’s Horse; 16 April 2012.

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