And they’re off! Ty’r Eos Furyanna and Wessex AF120, head to head.
For the last three winters the unimproved fields in the western section of Carmel National Nature Reserve have been grazed by Welsh mountain ponies. Ty’r Eos Furyanna, to give her her registered Welsh Pony and Cob Society name or Eos (Nightingale), as she’s more usually known, is one of them. The ponies come onto the reserve at the beginning of November and leave at the end of March. During that time most herbaceous grassland plant species are dormant which means that the grazing by the ponies does not affect them. Some of the more vigorous species of grass can however be weakened by the grazing resulting in those species that have kept their heads down through the winter having an advantage when spring comes.
The most obvious sign of this at Carmel are the expanding numbers of orchids particularly common spotted orchid and greater butterfly orchid that are reappearing in the fields grazed by ponies over the winter. Only two or three ponies are on our fields at any one time and so the disadvantages associated with over stocking, such as the ground being excessively churned up are avoided. However there are grassland management requirements that grazing with ponies can’t meet and so The Grasslands Trust has recently acquired a new workhorse namely Wessex AF120 a Quad drawn flail mower.
Because of a lack of farming activity for many years the grasslands on the reserve became scrubbed over. When The Grasslands Trust took over management one of the first tasks was to cut back the thick blackthorn that had colonised large areas of previously biodiverse grasslands. This clearance enabled grassland habitats to reclaim those areas but the battle to keep blackthorn and it’s partner in this particular crime bramble from sneaking back continues.
Our new flail mower makes short work of blackthorn saplings and bramble. During March we cut ten meter lengths of scrub every thirty meters along nearly a kilometre of field edge. In subsequent years a different third of the edge will be mown. In this way we will hopefully prevent the encroachment of scrub into the fields but still maintain the field edge habitat which can be so important for pollinating insects in late summer and autumn. Ponies grazing over the winter, a flail mower to tackle the tough stuff. There’s a racing idiom about courses and horses that would provide a pithy concluding remark if I could only remember it.
Charli Evans, Carmel Reserves Warden