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 – 22 having already been purchased by farmer Duncan Ellis for use on the chalk downland of the Folkington Estate which they tenant and along the Firle Escarpment SSSI. 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!