Monday. Spent the day erecting some 1300 metres of electric fencing in the vicinity of the famous Belle Tout lighthouse near Beachy Head. All went well with most of the task done by lunchtime – we (Anna & I) working at a cracking pace in order to get as much done before the arrival of a wet spell in the afternoon. Eastbourne BC, the Trust’s clients here, supplied a number of metal gates so as to allow continued access to the area by the public.
Tuesday. I spent the afternoon finishing off and tensioning the above fencing. Entered into conversation with a couple from Hampshire who have a number of native breed ponies and enjoyed for once watching someone else having to erect electric fencing!
Wednesday. Used our recently purchased livestock trailer for the first time when we gathered-in 4 ponies from off part of the RSPB’s Broadwater Warren reserve and transported them down to Belle Tout. Just as they were getting settled, a Chinook helicopter flew over very low over – the ponies roared off at full throttle!
Thursday. Amongst other things, we had a another meeting with one of the staff of the Conservators of Ashdown Forest, (they having on Monday finally given approval to contracting the Trust to carry out some trial grazing in the Misbourne valley to the east of the village of Nutley. This will involve electric fencing 43 acres of heath, gorse and bog enabling 8 of our Chailey ponies to winter graze this particularly bio-diverse area.
Saturday. We spent much of the day electric fencing at Shooters Bottom between Belle Tout and Beachy Head. A fabulous warm, sunny day – on days like these, we must have the best jobs in the world – exercise, fresh air and iconic surroundings! We finished early afternoon having erected some 1200 metres. Quite a number of large white butterflies on the wing.
Most of the golden fields of cereal are now stubble dotted with bales of straw…
Our Exmoor ponies are now often grazing by snatching off the seedheads of grass as they walk…
Starlings and finches have now got breeding out of the way & roam the countryside in family flocks…
The ponies at Chailey Common are proving elusive of late due to the height of the bracken now…
100 years ago today, a dreadful conflict started, repercussions from which, haunt humanity to this day – Libya, Palestine, Syria and Iraq…
Being in a reflective mood, walked up to our village War Memorial…
Thursday, March 13.
Enjoyable walk along the coast at Hastings Country Park… Warm sunshine, little breeze, sleeves rolled up. Saw the first sinister growing-tips of bracken appearing above the dry, brittle litter of last year’s growth. Ants active and plenty of small tortoiseshell butterflies engrossed in courtship flights and of course, queen bumblebees on the wing. Much evidence of landslips and also large pools of ‘set porridge’ of downwash at a number of locations below the dishevelled sandstone cliffs. Early pm, and a sea fog crept in over the lower portions of the coast.
This week has been quiet – so far! The only matter of real concern is the irresponsible person (or persons) who have on a number of occasions in recent weeks, deliberately propped gates open where the ponies are grazing at Chailey Common. This could lead to ponies getting out on to the adjacent busy A272 road, leading to the real possibility of horrific consequences. The extra six recently acquired ponies have now settled in at Chailey.
Restoration work is currently in-hand at both Chailey and the RSPB’s Broadwater. At Chailey, the ESCC’s contractors are progressing with the felling of selected groups of trees and scraping of some areas to remove bracken and plant debris in the hope of re-establishing heather. At Broadwater, the scale of the RSPB’s restoration could be described as being at an industrial scale, with more large areas of mature conifer having been felled and their stumps having been ground-out. This will lead to the creation of sweeping vistas of heath, grass and containing a rich assemblage of birds and insects. This will in coming years, require more ponies to maintain it.
Matters are slowly progressing towards the Sussex Pony Grazing & Conservation Trust creating a fourth herd of ponies numbering 15 ponies. This will hopefully happen during January and will bring the total number of ponies to 77. These new ponies will initially be employed on two sites on the eastern South Downs helping to restore and conserve chalk grassland.
6:00pm, Sunday, September 1st 2013.
An MP has urged a council to clear up one of the largest open heathlands in the county. Norman Baker is calling on East Sussex County Council to properly maintain Chailey Common. The Lewes MP said he has received reports from residents that the plant life is getting out of control and the animals grazing the land may be struggling to keep up. Mr Baker has asked the county council to do more to keep the site of special scientific interest area open and accessible to locals. The privately owned site is run by a management committee under an agreement between the county council, Lewes District Council and the landowners. He said: “There is a lot of history to Chailey Common and to have it maintained in a centuries old way is a desirable approach to an essential service. However, if this solution is not working then it should be made clear that it is East Sussex’s responsibility to pick up the slack.”
An East Sussex County Council spokeswoman said grazing was introduced on the common as part of a project to protect the nationally rare heathland and to help remove invasive plants and scrub. She added: “Without these animals, in conjunction with mechanical control measures, the heathland and wildlife that goes with it could be lost forever. The grazing scheme is funded by Natural England which has approved the work programme and grazing schedule. Work to clear areas of Chailey Common takes place all year round with fire rides and the Rights of Way across the common also routinely cleared back to maintain access.”
[The current grazing being carried out by ponies belonging to the Sussex Pony Grazing & Conservation Trust, (together with sheep and cattle), will not on their own deal with 70-plus years of neglect. Large areas of bracken and birch have now become established, gradually shading out many of the beautiful, small heathland plants and insects. This can to a large degree, be reversed with the correct management. Grazing has to work in tandem with mechanical intervention (with perhaps some careful, controlled burning?) in the form of thoughtfully scheduled mowing and tree clearance which to date, has not happened on a sufficiently large scale. ESCC is presumably receiving funding from Natural England to carry out this work, so lets see the Chailey Commons bloom once again!]
Now we are in late July and some of the ponies have started their annual, limited period of eating small amounts of the fronds of bracken. Though poisonous it is something that Exmoor ponies tend to do at this time of year.
Thankfully they usually avoid this plant for most of the year. Bracken is toxic because it contains large amounts of thiaminase, which breaks down thiamine which is an important B vitamin. That said, a pony has to consume pretty large amounts of bracken before poisoning will occur. It has to consume 3-5% of its body weight for at least a month to induce symptoms. Bracken is also considered carcinogenic.