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ponies in a forest

 Harnessing native pony power for local land management (Power Ponies)

Project team

Hywel Tanner-Jones - Cydlynydd y Prosiect / Project Coordinator

(Groundwork Caerphilly)

Peter Morgan – Adviser and Hill Pony Expert (Torcoed Stud)

Dr Donna Oldbury-Thomas Coventry University, Adviser and Land Management Expert

Voluntary Research Assistants; Ben Davys, Megan Hill, Gwen Thomas and Jack Morgan

Funder

Landfill Disposals Tax Communities Scheme

Duration

1 April 2024 - 31 October 2024

pony being petted

 

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Project overview

The hill bred Welsh Mountain Pony is a local and hardy breed that has graced our landscape for centuries. However, from 10,000 ponies a hundred years ago, they have undergone a dramatic decline such that there is only around 400 left now. Their demise has negative environmental and agricultural consequences for local landscapes and communities.

Without hill bred ponies on our hills, scrub and bracken areas expand increasing both tick and fire risk, as well as consuming valuable agricultural grazing land and reducing biodiversity. For local communities, this has meant the loss of paths, being unable to navigate areas swamped with bracken (and running the risk of ticks) and a decreased biodiversity as grasslands and ecologically delicate sites are overrun. There is now a local and national need to identify a low carbon, sustainable solution to these health, safety and environmental challenges.

Native Welsh ponies offer two solutions to these problems. Firstly, they are physiologically and behaviourally adapted such that they are more able to contend with scrub than other grazing animals. This means their inclusion in conservation grazing schemes can be critical to the success of the scheme. Hence, this project aims to promote this role played by the ponies during two demonstration events.

The second aim is to train these hill bred ponies to pull equipment such that they can help us complete environmental and agricultural work providing a low impact, carbon neutral, service for key landscape management issues and contribute to Green Skills Initiatives. These include bracken bashing, log hauling, hauling tack, square and round bales, chain harrowing, double-knifed mowing etc and, as such, will be of use to both wildlife reserve managers and farmers.

For small scale chores this can be a more cost effective and sustainable alternative to tractors and quad bikes. Large horses, such as Shires, are commonly used for these tasks but their weight and large hooves can cause damage in ecologically delicate areas. The small Welsh Mountain pony however, also has proven hauling capabilities (for example they were easily capable pulling two-tonne wagons of coal as pit ponies) and they offer the advantages of being smaller, more nimble, and easier to keep and transport and their reduced weight and smaller hooves mean that they are less damaging to delicate ecological sites.

It is hoped, as with the horse loggers of the British Horse Logging Society, this new, environmentally friendly and low carbon means of land management will provide a potential source of income or careers for local community members.

Project objectives

Throughout the project, the team will include vets, equine physiotherapists and farriers who will ensure the health and comfort of the ponies. They will also suggest improvements to ensure even better comfort and welfare and monitor to establish what health benefits the ponies gain as a result of this type of training.

Objective 1. To train ponies and volunteer handlers.

In May 2024 Rowena Moyse of the South Wales Carriage Driving Centre will train 5 ponies over a period of 10 weeks each, along with their volunteer handlers. Two of these ponies will then be used at demonstration events and all ponies could subsequently (post project) be used in conservation schemes or used to pull land management machinery such as bracken bashers and serve as potential income streams for trained handler who wishes to use them for landscape management jobs.

Objective 2. Landscape management practice and improvement

When the ponies have completed their training, Peter Morgan will transport the ponies to his farm to roll bracken and practice for the demonstration events. In addition, after consultation with local communities in Blaenavon and Llanmadoc and the fire service as well as the Bracken Control Group, Peter and other volunteers will roll bracken or clear paths that will result in fire breaks, invasive species suppression and improved path access for local communities. This work will be ongoing as needed.

Objective 3. Demonstration events (Late August/September 2024)

One demonstration event will be held at Keepers Lake, Blaenavon and one on NT land at Whiteford Burrows. At these events, demonstrations will include a talk on the need for ponies in the landscape as part of conservation grazing schemes, driving of different equipment with ponies, farriery, a veterinary assessment with the vet describing what to look out for and how to keep the ponies safe and a pony physiotherapist. Critically, Groundworks will also be offering business advice for anyone wanting to pursue a career using these ponies either as pony handlers for land management techniques or setting up as physiotherapists etc.

Impact statement

The results of the project will be used to inform the general public of landscape and native pony issues and crucially incorporate the shared knowledge and history of pony enthusiasts, along with creating new green career opportunities for local people.

Outputs

  • 5 trained ponies and 5 trained handlers
  • A film
  • An academic paper on the rise of animal traction technologies in the UK
  • A report advising on the environmental and business benefits of this technology along with advice on how to set up as a pony drawn technology provider.
 Queen’s Award for Enterprise Logo
University of the year shortlisted
QS Five Star Rating 2023