Carrying on the grazing tradition

Exmoor Ponies Grazing

The flower-rich grassland of the cliffs owes its very existence to the age-old tradition of livestock grazing. For it is only through regular browsing of sheep, cattle and horses that the ever-encroaching thickets of bushes and trees are kept at bay and that the fine chalk grassland flowers are able to thrive.

To maintain and improve the land that we care for here on the White Cliffs, we need to control the growth of scrub brush. The most effective and sustainable means of this kind of care on chalk grassland is by grazing with livestock. At The White Cliffs of Dover we have a herds of Exmoor ponies to help us look after this special place without the need for intensive human intervention.

The perfect tool for the job

The Exmoor 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. They'll even strip off bark.

A very hardy breed, the Exmoor pony does extremely well on land like the White Cliffs, particularly when kept in extensive systems (low numbers of animals per hectare).

It is really important that visitors don’t feed the ponies, they get enough food from the land all year round and additional food can lead them to be overweight and suffer with health issues.

Which way do we go?
Exmoor Ponies behind a footpath waymarker
Which way do we go?

Improving the land for the future

Our herds have been grazing here for nearly 20 years. Over this time they've had a highly successful effect on the areas biodiversity. 

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 Exmoor ponies are an ideal breed for the cliff top environment, we also use herds of sheep and cattle in some of the more flat and easy to graze areas.