Farewell Dear Ponies…

Last month, I carried out my last lookering (checking) of some of the Sussex Pony Grazing & Conservation Trust’s Exmoor ponies, these being on the National Trust’s Gayles Farm property, adjacent to the Seven Sisters cliffs.  So, now I have no connection with the Trust, a charitable trust that I set-up back in 2004.  The Trust went on to become one of the largest pony conservation grazing set-ups in the country.

June 2018. Ponies grazing on Gayles Farm.

I have found it very difficult at times lately, dealing with retiring in early 2017 and withdrawing from what was very much ‘my baby’ but the world and myself have to move on.  I now realise now just how much managing the 85 free-living ponies ruled my life and in some respects broke my personal life.  I originally started the pony grazing back in 1999 whilst working for the Sussex Downs Conservation Board, in order to conserve the chalk grasslands of Firle escarpment and neighbouring areas of flower-rich Downland.

Sussex police briefly close the busy A272 at Chailey Common to enable Sussex Pony Grazing’s ponies to cross to summer grazing area. (Image courtesy of Linda Ball).

Eventually, ponies were grazing four areas of the Ashdown Forest, a RSPB reserve near Tunbridge Wells, Chailey Common, Hastings Country Park and several locations in the Beachy Head/Birling Gap area, to name the main grazing sites.  I deeply regret that the last named two coastal areas are as from this year, now no longer being pony grazed – new management and in my view, a loss of one of the Trust’s great ‘jewels in its crown.’

October 2016. Ponies grazing at Shooters Bottom near Beachy Head.

I would like to put on the record, my sincere thanks to all those Lookers past and present and also to Bunny Hicks, Alan Skinner, Jon Curson and Malcolm Emery without whom, the pony grazing would never have got off the starting block!  Also, to those many others and landowners, who co-operated with making it such a success.

Week Ending Saturday, May 2nd

Monday, April 27th.  We moved three ponies from the Trust’s hold-back land over to a small nature reserve at Chailey today.  One of the two remaining spare ponies is causing us concern because it’s been losing weight and though it has now been on good grazing for over a month, it has shown little improvement.  Therefore we called one of our vets in to examine it, she took away a number of blood samples for analysis to hopefully pin down the problem.

Tuesday, April 28th.  A friend (Jim B) e-mailed me: “I went for a walk on Windover Hill today, nice in the sun but that wind had a bit of a bite to it.  I was looking for flowers, really, cowslips and Early Purples….lots of cowslips but still quite small….but the highlight turned out to be a pair of Red Kites performing acrobatics below me and quite close – just over the fence line at the head of Long Man….stunning….I must have watched them for a good half hour all told.”

Thursday, April 30th.  As a favour, in the morning took a party of 89 9-year olds from Hailsham for a guided walk on the 7 Sisters Country Park.  Beautiful sunny morning but there was a keen wind which made it a little tricky in talking to such a large group but I think they enjoyed it and hopefully learnt something.  They were hoping to see some spring flowers…

The Country Park is nowadays looking somewhat run-down – fences, gates, signage.  Much of the principle wildlife habitat – grassland, is either over-grazed or conversely, under-grazed.  This area used to be a mecca for a myriad of wild flowers, butterflies and birds; sadly, not at the moment.  This unfortunate situation has arisen due to several reasons: poor management over the past 15 years or so; a lack of funding and staffing.  Most of all, as regards its all-important grazing, the tenant of the past 26 years appears to have little or no regard to wildlife conservation, the principle reason he was chosen and brought in.  It’s high-time he was replaced.

I’ll finish off on this subject with a radical suggestion.  I suggest that the Park’s owner East Sussex CC, sells the Country Park to the National Trust, which now has a sizeable land holding operation in the area and has the necessary expertise to manage the Park correctly.  The ESCC would then have off-loaded for them, a liability, one they no longer have the expertise to manage and crucially, it would raise for the cash-strapped County Council, a considerable amount of much-needed capital.

‘Seven Sisters’ – Second Edition Now Available – Buy!


 The text for this Second Edition has been considerably extended where new research has disclosed further information.  Purchase via this website or, at the Seven Sisters Country Park Centre, Exceat or Much Ado Bookshop, Alfriston.

This research encompasses additional accounts of shipwrecks, including newly-commissioned scientific research for this book, on one of the two great Sussex shipwrecks, that of the exceptionally valuable Spanish ship, Nympha Americana. Also to be found, are newly discovered details of both sea and river defences and also the early recreational use of the Cuckmere River.

Research has enabled an entirely new chapter, which sets out events leading to the creation and, early management of the Seven Sisters Country Park at Exceat including its use by the film industry.

Excepting this new chapter and Chapters One and Two, the ‘cut-off point’ for the book’s content is still approximately the early-1970’s. A number of additional illustrations have also been included, as is a completely new, comprehensive index.