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Barnham Broom

Norfolk, England

Breckland Ponies...?

Posted by Luci Ackers on May 03, 2016
Breckland Ponies...?

A new team of countryside patrollers has started its mission in Norfolk.

These four-legged newcomers have been tasked with the important job of habitat control in an area of England that isn't quite accustomed to seeing them. A number of Dartmoor ponies have joined a herd already living in the Brecks as part of an ongoing conservation project.

These beautiful ponies are usually associated with the wild moors of south Devon where they wander and graze amongst the dramatic scenery of Dartmoor. But recently they have become a rather common sight in East Anglia...

So what's the plan?

The Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust has been working alongside the Norfolk Wildlife Trust for about ten years now and their programme sees the breeding of semi-wild Dartmoor ponies which are relocated to the heathland of Norfolk, some seven hours away. The ponies are a hardy breed and able to live outdoors in Norfolk all year round. They're brilliant for the landscape and have been brought in as conservation grazing animals. They thrive on the gorse, grasses and coarse vegetation.

Why ponies?

Unlike cattle and other grazing animals, the Dartmoor ponies nibble rather than uproot the important vegetation. They are able to maintain a habitat that in turn supports a whole wealth of specialist and protected species. Stone curlew and a variety of rare flora are just some of those positively impacted by the work of the ponies. The idea was to replicate the area's ancient land management routine: grazing animals were actually responsible for the creation of this heathland in the first place. The cropped, coarse vegetation encourages an impressive biodiversity.

A win/win situation

The Brecks are great for Dartmoor ponies. Unique and beautiful, this landscape is located in the heart of Norfolk and is known for its ancient heathland and large, picturesque spaces. Providing a similar diet and a similar climate for the naturally hardy Dartmoor ponies, Breckland now has the largest collection of these majestic animals outside of Dartmoor itself. The ponies maintain the landscape, and the landscape ensures the protection of the ponies: having a collection of good quality, moor-bred ponies located outside of Dartmoor means there is stock for Dartmoor breeders to draw upon if ever necessary (for example, in the face of a regional disease).

Where to see them

It's thought there are around 160 Dartmoor ponies now in the Brecks and different herds are responsible for grazing different locations. It is roughly one pony to two or three hectares. Though they are free to roam and graze all year round, the animals do receive biannual health and hoof checks! Holt Lowes is an area rich in different habitats not too far from the Norfolk coast, just south of Holt. It is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest and a couple of ponies have joined the existing herd there. New members have also been added to the herds at Cawston Heath and Weeting Heath. The latter is cared for by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust and is a great place to spot the rare stone curlew too.   

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Luci Ackers
Author: Luci Ackers

Luci loves getting out and about for a good cycle ride or easy-going walks in the countryside, and thoroughly enjoyed the time she previously spent working for the National Trust. Her love of writing started from a young age and on rainy days nothing beats curling up in a secret corner with a good book.


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