Sensitive grazing is key to conservation management. Carmel Reserve’s unique mosaic of grassland, woodland and heath was created and can only be maintained by grazing. It can be tricky to get the right type of animals for the right length of time to create the ideal meadow. If the grazing is too heavy you lose the characteristic flowers. Undergrazing or abandonment is equally harmful, as tall grasses and scrub quickly shade out the flowers. I know sheep are suited to some sites, but their small mouths are very good at winkling out the tastiest herbs and producing a bowling green rather than a rich sward full of flowers and invertebrates. Cattle and hardy native ponies are fantastic management tools. But we have struggled to find local graziers willing to put their stock on our small, stony heathland parcels, as they believe that the forage is too poor and the ground too uneven and dangerous for their animals.
That is why we were thrilled to welcome our first Carneddau-type Welsh mountain ponies to Carmel at the end of April.
We are leasing the ponies from our ‘Gwendraeth Grasslands Project’ partners at PONT www.pontcymru.org (Pori, Natur a Threftadaeth – Grazing, Nature and Heritage). PONT is a non-profit organisation which encourages and facilitates grazing for the wildlife, landscape and cultural heritage of Wales. The WREN-funded Gwendraeth Grasslands Project is a partnership between The Grasslands Trust, PONT, the South and West Wales Wildlife Trust and the National Botanic Garden of Wales, working to enhance grasslands throughout this part of Carmarthenshire.
PONT chose these unique Carneddau ponies because of their hardiness and ability to thrive on poor quality grazing. They are said to have been an integral part of farming in northern Snowdonia since pre-Roman times and were widely employed in the coal mines. With the decline of traditional farming and coal mining their numbers have dwindled, which led the Carneddau farmers to form the Cymdeithas Merlod y Carneddau (Carneddau Pony Society) www.carneddauponies.co.uk to save these now rare and locally distinctive animals from extinction.
The ponies are ideal for conservation grazing. They live free on the mountains all year, enduring bitter winters on poor quality grassland. They are smaller and stockier than other Welsh mountain ponies, and graze and trample bracken, gorse and scrub, purple moor grass and rush. That’s why they are perfect for our heathland sites which have become swamped with bracken, scrub and trees after years of neglect. Our two ponies had their heads down and were munching away within seconds of arriving at our ‘Garn South’ site. They have begun the work that will help the heather, bilberry, lousewort and other heathland specialists to flourish again.
Deborah Sazer, Ecologist