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.

Nature reserve recruits herd of rare wild horses; Tuesday’s Horse; 7 April 2011.

Nature reserve recruits herd of rare wild horses

Konik Wild Horses
Konik Wild Horses by Gwen Dolen

Stephen Christie, writing for The Press and Journal, reports:

Scotland Flag Icon
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) hopes eight Konik foals will help improve Wetlands

    A north-east nature reserve has recruited a herd of rare horses to help improve its wetland habitats.

    It is hoped the eight konik foals will help the conservation work being done at the RSPB’s Loch of Strathbeg site, near Crimond in Buchan, through their natural grazing.

    Hardier than their domestic cousins, the horses can cope in harsh climates and forage in the wild.

    Experts say their ability to graze on coarser grass, sedges and rushes can also help boost biodiversity.

    Loch of Strathbeg manager Dominic Funnell said:

    “Koniks love eating rank tussocky vegetation and we have lots of it at Strathbeg.

    “Currently we have to artificially strip it away to ensure our wetlands remain in top condition, but now, thanks to the grazing habits of these horses, we can ditch the machines and get back to a natural approach to habitat management.”

    Mr Funnell said the horses’ arrival would also be welcomed by the many species of birds that call the loch home.

    He added:

    “It’s great news for the geese, swans, ducks and wading birds, like lapwings and curlew, which need wetlands to feed and breed, and it means we will have more time to concentrate on other conservation work.

    “These horses will be doing an important job for us, so to make sure they’re not disturbed, they’ll be working on the less public areas of the reserve.

    “Visitors will be able to see them distantly from Tower Pool hide and be able to hear more about their work in the visitor centre and on the reserve website.”

    Before their arrival in the north-east yesterday, the foals were being cared for by the Canterbury-based conservation charity the Wildwood Trust.

    The group has already enlisted koniks as part of another conservation grazing project on nature reserves in Kent.

    Read more >>

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Horses in History
“Rare horse breed proves crucial to delicate ecosystem”
http://www.horsetalk.co.nz/horsesinhistory/konik.shtml