Two of the Exmoor ponies
Ponies help save Wiltshire chalkland
Six Exmoor ponies are being drafted in to graze the chalk grassland of Markham Banks, Wroughton to help save precious wild plants and flowers.
The Wiltshire Wildlife Trust have called in the cavalry to help save the chalk grassland of Markham Banks, adjacent to Clouts Wood nature reserve, which the Trust owns in Wroughton.
Chalk grassland is a habitat of international importance, 80% of the world’s total is found in the UK, of which half is in Wiltshire. It is also one of the most diverse habitats, able to support 60 different species in a single square metre, so is vitally important to the environment.
Happily munching away
The slopes at Markham Banks are packed with plant life including rockrose, horseshoe vetch, spiny rest harrow and wild thyme, but these plants are under threat as competitive tall, thick grasses are preventing light from getting through to the finer chalk grassland species.
Markham Banks has a particular problem with the abundance of Tor grass, an extremely aggressive competitor which can quickly overwhelm other species. So drastic measures had to be taken.
Tor grass is very difficult to control because it is unpalatable to most breeds of livestock, but hardy Exmoor ponies love it and have proved successful in controlling this invasive grass elsewhere in the UK, happily grazing on coarse grasses and scrubs which other animals avoid.
Exmoors are listed as an endangered species themselves but despite their precarious status they are extremely hardy and sure footed, which makes them perfect for clambering the steep undulating slopes of Markham Banks.
Sarah Marshall is the project officer for the Trust’s New Life for Chalk Grasslands Project, she said: "Many of our nature reserves consist of just one habitat type, but here the combination of woodland and chalk grassland at Clouts Wood and Markham Banks offers an exciting opportunity to cater for a wider range of species within a single area."
The ponies were donated by the National Trust, which has been using ponies to graze chalk grassland in Surrey for the past 14 years. People are welcome to come along to Markham Banks and Clouts Wood to enjoy the wildlife, but are warned not to feed the ponies.
last updated: 14/04/2009 at 10:24
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