Skip to content

Our work at Devil's Dyke

Synchronised grazing ponies
Ponies grazing at Devil's Dyke | © National Trust Images

Chalk grassland is an internationally rare and endangered habitat. It can support up to 40 different species of plants per square metre, making it very biodiverse. Some of these species grow nowhere else, including many beautiful orchids and wildflowers. In turn, they attract insects and rare butterflies such as the Adonis blue. Find out about our work to care for this rare habitat at Devil’s Dyke and the species that rely on it.

Why graze with ponies on chalk grassland?

Dartmoor ponies have been recruited to help look after the rare chalk grassland and Iron Age hillfort at Devil’s Dyke. Dartmoor ponies are a small and hardy breed that are ideal for conservation grazing.

The challenge at Devil's Dyke is that the chalk grassland species can be very slow growing and can easily out competed by faster growing species like bramble and gorse. The ponies thrive eating lots of different plants and can cope easily with steep slopes and bad weather. They are happy on the Dyke all year round.

Duke of Burgundy butterfly
Duke of Burgundy butterfly | © National Trust Images/Matthew Oates

How do the ponies on Devil's Dyke help?

The Dartmoor ponies work alongside the cows by trampling on the tough gorse and bramble stems, nibbling away at their new shoots, slowing plant growth down and allowing the more delicate species to flourish.

Ponies have different mouths to cows, allowing them to browse amongst the spiky plants that cows are less able to access. They will push into rough areas where the cows avoid, opening them up and creating new habitats for chalk grassland plants and insects like butterflies to thrive.

Ponies and rare plants

The many slow-growing, and sometimes rare, plants that make up this fragile habitat are unusual in that they need poor soil to survive. The animals that graze the Dyke are only eating the plants that grow there, putting back fewer nutrients in their waste than they take out.

Please help look after the ponies and this amazing place by not feeding them and taking dog waste and rubbish home.

Please don't feed the ponies

The ponies are wild and feral. Feeding them will harm them. It also harms the plants and animals that live on chalk grassland by bringing in extra nutrients.

Chalk path ascends at Devil's Dyke, South Downs, West Sussex in September

Discover more at Devil's Dyke

Find out how to get to Devil's Dyke, where to park, the things to see and do and more.

You might also be interested in

View from the east at Devil's Dyke, West Sussex, in August

The history, myths and legends of Devil's Dyke 

Devil's Dyke is an iconic landform in the heart of the South Downs, home to rare wildlife and many myths and legends. Discover its rich history stretching back thousands of years.

September at Devil's Dyke, South Downs, West Sussex

Things to see and do at Devil's Dyke 

With its panoramic landscape, Devil's Dyke is one of the most stunning places to pass the time. Whether walking, cycling or taking in the scenery, there’s something for all.

Ranger in National Trust fleece inspecting white blossom on tree in orchard

Our cause 

We believe that nature, beauty and history are for everyone. That’s why we’re supporting wildlife, protecting historic sites and more. Find out about our work.

A group of hikers climb a path through woodland towards the camera

For everyone, for ever: our strategy to 2025 

Read about our strategy 'For everyone, for ever' here at the National Trust, which will take the organisation through to 2025.