Ponies conservation grazing on Cissbury Ring

New Forest Ponies conservation grazing on CissburyRing

The flower-rich grassland typical of the South Downs owes its very existence to the age-old tradition of livestock grazing

It is only through regular browsing by sheep, cattle, and horses that the ever-encroaching thickets of bushes and trees on the South Downs are kept at bay, while the fine chalk grassland flowers are able to thrive.

To maintain and improve the land that we care for here at Cissbury Ring, we need to control the growth of scrub. The most effective and sustainable means of this kind of care on chalk grassland is by grazing with livestock. At Cissbury Ring a small herd of New Forest ponies help us look after this special place without the need for intensive human intervention.

The New Forest pony is an ideal breed to use for conservation. The ponies are intelligent and resourceful. They will not only graze grass but will also browse hawthorn berries, young trees and thistle buds.

Iron Age ramparts with New Forest Ponies
Cissbury Ring's Iron Age ramparts being grazed by New Forest Ponies
Iron Age ramparts with New Forest Ponies

A very hardy breed, the New Forest pony does extremely well on land like we have at Cissbury Ring, particularly when kept in extensive systems (low numbers of animals per hectare). Managing the grazing does call for a careful balance: too little and the coarse grasses, bushes and trees take hold; too much and the delicate plants are unable to flower and set seed.

The ponies themselves are relatively low maintenance and are managed as a semi-wild herd. We check them regularly, and vets perform a general assessment every year to make sure they're in good health.

Although New Forest ponies are an ideal breed for this environment, we also use herds of hardy breeds of sheep and cattle in some of the more flat and easy to graze areas.

These ponies are semi-wild; if some - perhaps just one - person starts feeding them, they will directly associate humans with food. In time they will individually and as a herd expect food from any - perhaps every - passer-by. This new behaviour can develop into direct pestering of all our visitors.

Please do not feed or leave food for the ponies and if you are a dog owner we request that you keep your pet on a lead while on Cissbury Ring.

Two cartoon dogs from South Downs Take the Lead video

Take the Lead: Canine Confessions

We ask for the support of dog owners in keeping your pets under close control around livestock. If you are unsure as to whether your dog will chase livestock then please keep them on a lead. We recommend following the guidance in this series of useful videos, called Canine Confessions, produced by the South Downs National Park.