Future of the Exmoor Pony Grazing Scheme

Ponies being released at Hastings Country Park.

Popular Exmoor ponies to be removed from Hastings Country Park by                    Andy Helmsley, ‘The Hastings Observer,’  Monday 05 August 2019.

The well-loved sight of Exmoor ponies at Hastings Country Park is coming to an end with the ponies being removed.  The Sussex Pony Grazing Conservation Trust who manages the ponies has told the council their organisation now has an uncertain future and they will no longer be able to manage the ponies.  As a result they are moving them to a different location.  The ponies have been grazing the slopes and glens of Hastings Country Park for the last six years.  Their conservation grazing habits have transformed Warren Glen from a bracken dominated habitat to one where native coastal grassland and heather now dominates.

Cllr Colin Fitzgerald said: “We are really sorry the Trust is taking to ponies away. They have been a great attraction for the public and they have done a fantastic job of recovering threatened and rare coastal habitats.  As a conservation tool, they have been invaluable in helping the council retain their green flag awards and receive a special award for conservation grazing from the Keep Britain Tidy Group.  However, we wish them well in their new home.  We will be contacting other organisations to see if we can bring another set of ponies to the reserve “

Exmoor ponies are particularly suited to the rugged terrain of Hastings Country Park and they have become a familiar and well-loved site at the Country Park.  Together with the Belted Galloway cattle they form the conservation grazing backbone for managing the rugged and inaccessible areas of Hastings Country Park.”

The background to this story is that once I had retired in 2017, the Trust’s small, voluntary, long-serving but wherried committee had served for far longer than they had expected to and were in a sense, burnt-out.  On the ground, there simply wasn’t the continuing level of commitment or mental drive that I had as founder, this not being helped by a general failing to continue to engender in the Lookers (volunteers) a feeling of involvement and not using their co-operation with sharing some of the practical elements of the fencing and gathering-in work that was required.  Additional practical concerns were, a small vociferous section of the dog-walking fraternity on Eastbourne’s coastal downland objecting to the essential temporary electric fencing.  Another factor has been the increasing storminess of our weather due to climate change, increasing the struggle to maintain this fencing in a stock-proof condition during stormy weather thus ensuring that the ponies didn’t break-out and put themselves and possibly motorists, at risk.

The current position of play at present is that the Sussex Pony Grazing & Conservation Trust will announce its formal winding-up by the coming autumn and nearly all the remaining 65 ponies being split three ways – 12 having already been purchased by farmer Duncan Ellis for use on the chalk downland of the Folkington Estate which they tenant.   So the plan is for the pony grazing to continue involving the ponies being transferred to possibly three local organisations, there to be three centres of operations –  the South Downs, the Wealden area and a separate Pippingford Park ATA operation.  Negotiations are currently at a critical stage, this explaining why the outlying grazing site at Hastings is ceasing.  The government’s agency Natural England have also given the proposed plan their blessing and support.

So hopefully if this comes all comes to pass, it is really good news for the continuation of conservation grazing by Exmoor ponies in Sussex!

 

 

Thursday, July 25th – A Storm Arrives

The weather suddenly turned quite dramatically here early this evening, this happening on the hottest day of the year – indeed at Cambridge, it breaking the all time UK record for the hottest day, it reaching 38.7C (101F) and here reaching about 32/33 degrees C…
Late-afternoon, and the sky had gradually changed from broken cloud to menacing dark-coloured clouds, this change approaching from the SSW.  At 5-55pm, a few heavy spots of rain began to fall, thunder and lightning seen and heard about 4-8 miles away out to sea to the SE, the eye of the storm about to miss the Hastings area and probably making landfall towards the Rye area to the east.  By now, fairly torrential rain was falling, the street gutters now swollen.  But the South wind!  Firstly, a large area of sea perhaps 2-3 miles out to the SE took on a whitish, almost misty appearance – it being whipped-up by the wind.  The sea generally at about the same time, went from a deep blue, a little choppy with some ‘white horses’ to within 10 to 15 minutes, a wild, winter seascape – the sea becoming completely quite rough and dichromatic with the countless crests of white-topped waves!  I have been lucky through life to have witnessed the sea in many of its moods but I have never witnessed such a dramatic change, within such a short period of time!
By 6-15pm the situation had peaked, the storm having passed by and over the following 10 minutes the wind abated, the sea quickly calming again and becoming a settled blue again by about 6-25pm.

Tuesday’s Dramatic Sky Observations

Tuesday, June 18, and from my fairly high bay-window vantage point, a number of notable weather and astronomical observations were in evidence…

The day started off greyish, quickly brightening up through the morning.  From late-morning until late into the afternoon it was very humid.  During this same period, far out towards the seaward horizon, lay a thick band of brown, polluted air that was quite distinct with the unaided eye, probably arising from the dirty fuel that most ships still use.

Late-afternoon and the sky clouded over.  (Mid-evening and the cruise ship Queen Elizabeth 2 sailed down Channel making for St.Peters Port).  Late evening, and very low over the far south-eastern horizon the full moon – minus a day, slowly rose from out the blackness – it probably being the most blood-orange-coloured moon I have ever witnessed in my entire life!  Fantastic!

As it slowly rose in the heavens, it was consumed by the storm clouds of a fierce  electric storm which radar showed to have developed over the mid-Channel on air coming out of the Cherbourg peninsula, this drifting north-eastwards and clipping Sussex and Kent, there being much intense fork lightning, thunder, a stiffening breeze accompanying the intense rain that arrived just after 11pm, the roads resembling rivers.  The storm then slipping away some 40 minutes later.  What a spectacle!

Crows and Hot Weather

I have been watching with interest across the past few weeks of this heatwave, the behaviour of the carrion crow population in a part of Seaford that I frequent.

The local crow population near the seafront area (who appear to be rather benign, urban relations of the rural hunting type that I’m more familiar with) and seem very social together.  They number up to some 15 birds and here is the point of interest, spend much of the hotter part of the day on neighbouring roofs and ridges in an attempt to stay cooler in the slight breeze that these higher vantage points presumably provide.

Staying In An Countryside Idyll.

Well, here we are in the far west of Wales in the Gwaun valley nestling below the Preseli Hills Mountains; the weather is wall to wall sunshine, not too hot at the moment but that might change…

On the drive down on Friday, 22nd taking the scenic route to the north of the Brecon Beacons, we saw many dying ash trees – ash dieback I wonder?  Upon arrival at our little cottage, greeted by swallows, house martins and swifts!  Indeed, upon driving around, there are quite a number of swifts over countryside and the local towns -so this is where all our swifts are?

Geologists list it as one of most important meltwater channels in Britain from the last Ice Age.  The valley is pure rural idyll, thick with beech and hazel, ash and oak.  Sightings of pied flycatcher, wood warbler, redstarts, marsh tit, nut hatch and tree creeper are recorded.  We watch from the cottage, buzzards, kite and (our) four young swallows on the overhead cable opposite.

Up on the mountains, bog aspodel, sundew, cotton grass, heathers, western gorse(?) and a small pink flower I shall have to look up upon my return oh and ponies!  Farming appears to be fairly benign , it mostly on the intermediate middle ground just above the valley.  The road verges are quite floristically rich – the foxgloves are spectacular at the moment!

November Sightings

Tuesday, November 7In the morning, one of the largest container ships in the world passed down Channel off the Sussex coast.  She was enroute to Southampton on her outbound voyage from Europe after sailing from China via Sri Lanka while on her first round voyage.  The Milan Maersk is one of the largest vessels of her type in the world with a capacity for 20,568 containers – that’s nearly 400 containers more than the previous largest.  In 2016 the largest container vessel calling in Southampton had a capacity for 16,000 containers.

Maersk Milan. Image Credits: ABP Southampton.

The megaship belongs to the second generation of Maersk Line’s Triple-E class (Economy of scale, Energy efficient and Environmentally improved) and is part of a series of eleven container ships, which will be delivered by the end of 2018.  Milan Maersk’s propulsion and software system creates energy savings which aims to reduce carbon emissions per container vessel by 35 percent.  This new generation of more efficient and environmentally friendly container ship joins LNG (Liquified Natural Gas) and solar powered RoRo vessels already visiting the port of Southampton.  For more technical information see    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maersk_Triple_E-class_container_ship  ).

Thursday, November 9.  With thick grey cloud overhead at daybreak, there was a clear, fabulously-coloured sky out at sea towards the south-east, creating brilliant blue skies with a golden sun surrounded by bright vermilion skies, casting bronze hues on the autumn-tinted trees near my house.