Pony grazing on Cissbury Ring

New Forest ponies grazing on Cissbury Ring

Our conservation ponies have been on Cissbury Ring for the whole year clearing scrub. The effects of their work are clear to see in the landscape and historic features are becoming visible on the ground.

Our equine landscape engineers - what a difference 17 ponies can make in just a few months.

The landscape at Cissbury Ring has finally started to return to its true form as chalk grassland – one of the rarest habitats in the UK – since we have had our small herd of New Forest ponies nibbling away at the vegetation.

The action of their constant grazing and aimless meandering across the hill fort has helped to remove plenty of the old grass “thatch” and is starting to show signs at knocking back the invasive scrub and bramble that was encroaching onto the paths and open areas and is now making way for wild flowers, wildlife and walkers.

They still have plenty of work to do of course as there is a lot of ground to cover up at Cissbury but with our forward planning we are able to make sure that they are focussing on the right areas and that it is improving the landscape for everyone.

New Forest ponies grazing on Cissbury Ring
New Forest ponies grazing on Cissbury Ring
New Forest ponies grazing on Cissbury Ring

Areas where you can see their work for yourselves include:

The Roman temple – With the action of grazing and our team of volunteers clearing the feature by removing all the gorse this historic feature is once more clear to see on the ground.  This temple is typical of the archaeological features that will progressively become more prominent as the ponies do their job.  Without the grazing this would have been a constant job for our team.

The inner ramparts – Where the ponies move as a herd, they spread out in a wide group and so graze all up the sides of the ramparts rather than walking in a line on the exposed chalk. This is perfect for conservation.  Their actions widen the paths and keep them clear so that our thousands of visitors don’t all walk on the same line, which can add to the erosion.

The outer ditches – At the moment our intrepid herd have not had much effect in the ditch bottoms but as winter approaches and the grass stops growing we expect their grazing will start to make inroads here too.  Without their grazing down in these hard-to-reach places we would have to use specialist equipment and use up many of our volunteer hours working on the steep and uneven ground.  These ponies simply take it all in their stride.