The most recent restoration project included the use of grazing stock as a natural way of keeping down invasive scrub on the Heath. Various types of animal were looked at and at the time the best ones were deemed to be Dexter cows, a small, docile breed.
Plans were made over a period of 4 years, and in April 2008, after a 2 year consultation, Defra gave permission to install stock fencing around two compartments for protecting the cows.
Grass was an important part of the cows' diet, and since the Heath is prone to drying out in the heat of the summer, we were only able to graze the cows for a limited time each year.
In 2011 we investigated the use of Exmoor ponies. They like to browse during the summer months, eating grass as their first choice therefore competing with the cows, but will graze in the winter turning to gorse tips, young saplings and other rough scrub. So we introduced a herd of 4 from the RSPB in Suffolk for the winter months. In February 2013 the herd was increased by 4 more from Cornwall by Mike Sandison, the then chairman of Essex Wildlife Trust.
The grazing scheme is now organised by Essex Wildlife Trust, and we now graze all 8 ponies from May to August, then just 4 of them stay until early January. For the rest of the year the other 4 ponies move to EWT Reserves at Danbury, Great Holland Pits and Tollesbury, where they all get together again in January.
The ponies are called Peregrine, Gadwall, Plover and Petrel from Suffolk, and Rufus, Jago, Trystan and Shadow from Cornwall. The information below describes how to approach and treat them properly.
The ponies create great interest to the heath, but it is important for their own - and human - welfare that they are treated properly by heath users. The following will have to be observed:
They should not be fed Otherwise they may start to follow people looking for food and may nip them.
The ponies are semi-feral (wild), therefore timid although slightly curious
They will move away if approached by humans or dogs, in the same way as most of the cows.
If approached or chased, they will run
We never know how any two animals will interact, and we ask you to take great care with your horse and dog while around the ponies. So it will be better to keep dogs on a lead to start with until the owner knows how they react to the ponies.
They may lose weight and coat condition during the winter This is not a sign of illness or neglect, ponies naturally feed up during the summer to store food for the winter. Heath users should not be concerned.
Access to the Compartments
There are kissing gates and field gates at various points where the fencing crosses existing main gates.
All kissing gates are accessible for wheelchairs and pushchairs, but not horses.
Only one compartment will be used at one time, and field gates into a compartment will be unlocked when it is not being grazed.