Today, I sent the e-mail below to fifty of the longer serving pony Lookers – volunteers who (used to) check the Exmoor ponies on a regular basis come rain, wind or snow. I have hesitated in the tense of the last sentence as I gain the impression that many of the Lookers have been made redundant by the pony trust or sadly fallen by the wayside through lack of communication.
“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 – 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 Continue reading
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.
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.
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.’
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.
Came across this shocking story today which to put in a nutshell, is a government department being unconstitutional and rounding-up and probably leading to slaughtering of thousands of wild horses, just so that greedy ranchers get more grazing!
Bill Will Send Them to Slaughter Against the Will of the American People.
Washington, DC (July 18, 2017). Today the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee stripped language from the Department of Interior’s 2018 budged that federally prohibits the slaughter of America’s federally protected wild horse and burro herds.
The amendment, put forth by by Republican Chris Stewart (R-UT) and passed by a voice vote, allows for the destruction of healthy wild horses and burros that Interior Department bureaucrats deem to be surplus. The removal of the protections would result in wild herds across the West being slaughtered on a mass scale. Captured wild horses and burros in government holding facilities would also be subject to being killed en masse.
Suzanne Roy, executive director of The American Wild Horse Campaign, the nation’s leading wild horse advocacy organization, issued a strong statement condemning the Committee’s vote.
“Let’s be clear: House Appropriations Committee members just signed a death warrant for America’s mustangs and it will lead to the wholesale destruction of these irreplaceable national treasures,” Ms. Roy said. “The Stewart amendment is a slaughter amendment, and its proponents are trying to hide that fact from the American people.”
“We will hold these Members of Congress to account for this public deception and unacceptable assault on our wild mustangs,” Ms. Roy said.
Recent public opinion polls and previous polls consistently show that 80% of Americans support protecting wild horses and burros from slaughter, and the vast majority support the use of humane birth control rather than slaughter to manage our nation’s wild horse herds.
The bill now moves onto the full House for a vote. The Senate is expected to take up the issue after the August recess.
About the American Wild Horse Campaign
The American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) (formerly known as the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign) is dedicated to preserving the American wild horse in viable, free-roaming herds for generations to come, as part of our national heritage. Its grassroots mission is endorsed by a coalition of more than 60 horse advocacy, humane and public interest organizations.
BATS. Two interesting facts on long distance migration of bats have been made known. In December 2013, a specie of Pipistrelle was found in northern Netherlands, having been ringed in Somerset some three years earlier. The second involved one being trapped during October 2015 in East Sussex, it having been ringed as a sub-adult two months earlier in Latvia. In its first year of life, this bat had made a journey of 1,460km over a period of some seven weeks.
COUNTRYSIDE STEWARDSHIP. England’s agri-environment scheme is said to be a shambles. With an inflexible start date of 1st January, some farmers are being left financially high and dry because their previous HLS Scheme ends after 1st January, they then being out of pocket for 11 months. Complexity of CS and insufficient Natural England staff to administer the scheme are making matters worse.
PESTICIDES and GAMEBIRDS. Work carried out in Sussex by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust have shown that foliar insecticides and insecticidal seed dressings are having a significant effect on the species of insect that are important food sources for young game birds. No wonder many of our farmland bird species are struggling!
PESTICIDE BAN. Meanwhile, perhaps France is showing the way forward, for there will be a total ban on pesticide use in public gardens, parks and forests. As from 2019, this ban will be extended to prohibit use in private gardens (apart from use by professionals). This seems a good idea when seeing the amount shelf space devoted to pesticides in our garden centres (not to mention the stench coming from them). Many people reach for their killer of choice without a clue of the environmental damage some of these concoctions can have!
NITROGEN. The Plant Link UK network has issued a new report, ‘We Need To Talk About Nitrogen…’ and it has the backing of the National Trust, Woodland Trust and the RSPB. It highlights the serious damage that nitrogen deposition is having upon the UK’s semi-natural habitats and wildlife. I’ve been banging on about this problem for years, one which partially instigated my setting-up in the 1990’s of conservation grazing by ponies in Sussex.
Prof Mark Sutton from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology has been appointed Chair of the International Nitrogen Initiative. Prof Sutton said that ‘in the EU alone, the fertilizer value of nitrogen losses from agriculture is around 14 billion Euros per year, equivalent to losing 25% of the European Agricultural Policy (CAP) budget (or 10% of the entire EU budget) up in smoke or down the drain.’
DEFRA DEFICIENT. There’s a widespread feeling in Westminster that DEFRA will not be up to the job of sorting out the huge amount of environmental law and new agricultural regulation following Brexit. Since 2006 the department has lost 2,285 members from its core staff. It has also suffered from crippling and on-going cuts to its budget. Put in context, currently the Civil Service is leaner than it has been since the Second World War and simply does not have the capacity to deal with the gargantuan task of leaving the EU.
I’ve been rather silent on the blogging front lately –
During mid-February I went down with what I term, the ‘flu bug from hell.’ It took me a month to recover from it, I not having been that ill for probably decades. Since October I have been in the process of purchasing a new property. What a long drawn-out, inefficient process! My own solicitor was brilliant but that can’t be said for the vendor’s solicitor or for a property management company involved. Finally during March, I handed over a large amout of money and the big day arrived and so I now reside in an urban environment – something I haven’t done for some 15 years, within the metropolis of Hastings and I’m really enjoying it! Seaside, gardening and when I find the time, new areas of countryside to explore.
The bout of illness brought about prematurely, my retirement, something I was intending to do when I moved. Having been involved with the ponies for some 17 years, the almost 24/7 responsibility was starting to become more and more a grind and I’m not getting any younger! I set up the Sussex Pony Grazing & Conservation Trust back in 2005 following my departure from the Sussex Downs Conservation Board. It’s so great not to have any responsibility for livestock! That said I am servant to my wonderful 3-legged cat who’s also having to get used to a more urban and, a more restricted life-style.
So returning to blogging… I’m not sure how it will evolve. I certainly want to get back to publicising and promoting environmental and wildlife issues but it’s likely there will be items from other fields. So, watch this space…
Storm Angus. Well, after a night of listening to the wind in the trees and the rain lashing down, I received text at 6-30am from my colleague Sally saying as she lives not too far away, she’d go and check the electric fencing on the 3 coastal pony grazing sites near Beachy Head. 7-30, she text to say she’d sorted the battered fences at Frances Bottom. 8-30am and another text, saying that the cliff top fence at Shooters Bottom towards Belle Tout was in one hell of a mess, so I phoned and said I’d set set-off immediately to assist her. This fence would have taken the full brunt of the storm.
When I arrived on site at 9-30, I’ve not seen electric fencing so blown about, some it in small heaps even with the odd metal stake still attached and within it! We basically had to untangle the three lines of wire and tape, and re-erect most of the 850 metres of the cliff facing fence, we finishing at about midday. Conditions were very windy at first and quite cold but at least it was dry.
These two pics I took just before 9-30, before starting work and showing the white surf on the rocks below Belle Tout and the fencing largely laying on the ground.
We then went on to Birling Gap and fortunately Nick the looker there for today is quite practical and he’d turned the power off and had just about finished re-ercting sections by the time we arrived. Fortunately, it usually works that the ponies move away from the wind thus retreating from where the fence is being damaged and where they could get out. Just for good measure, I then walked the 1700 metres of fencing at Ashdown Forest on the way home.
Statistics. The shipping forecast was for the possibility of a Force 10 Storm but out at the Greenwich Light Buoy, 20 miles out from the coast off Peacehaven, the maximum wind speed briefly recorded was at 7am and at 75mph, technically into the Force 12 Hurricane zone. (This, it has to be remembered is over open sea where wind speeds are a little higher).