Born to pedigree pony breeders, Dartmoor ponies Gemini, Spring Lady, Bay’s Delight and Kestrel are used to the finer things in life. But the four Dartmoor mares, which arrived on the National Trust’s Killerton Estate, Devon, at the start of the year, are being put to work – helping rangers from the conservation charity protect ancient archaeology in the Devon countryside.
The ponies will graze Dolbury Hillfort, an early Iron Age fort that boasts stunning views over the River Culm.
Andy Bramwell, Visitor Services Officer at the Killerton Estate, said: “In 2015 we cut down a lot of trees and scrub from the hill fort, after fears that the plants’ roots were damaging the Iron Age archaeology below ground.
“Dartmoor ponies are like Labradors – they’ll eat just about anything. They stop the felled trees and scrub from growing back and swamping the fort. By grazing the fort the ponies also created the right conditions for wildflowers like bluebells. Last year we had a fantastic display – but this spring is set to be even better.
“It’s the second year we’ve had ponies on the hill fort. It might be because they’re all just off the moors, but these native Dartmoors seem a little bit feistier than our last herd! Although they’re friendly, we’d ask that our visitors help us keep the ponies safe by not feeding them and keeping their dogs on a short lead when around the animals.”
The four ponies, which will live outdoors on hill fort round-the-clock until the spring, have been loaned to the National Trust by Dartmoor breeders North Hall Manor, near Widecombe in the Moor. Margaret Rogers, owner of North Hall Manor, added: “Dartmoor ponies are on the RBST’s endangered list, with no more than 500 breeding females. Our four ponies are helping to keep alive an essential bloodline that stretches back thousands of years.
“Gemini is the matriarch – she looks after the others and she’s not afraid to boss them about. The other three are about 18 months old. They can be quite a handful sometimes. Gemini must feel like she’s looking after teenagers.
“We are extremely grateful to the National Trust and the Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust for this conservation grazing opportunities; it is reassuring when two charities collaborate on environmental work and projects that are essential to support the breed.”