Ponies arrive to assist rewilding on The Sharpham Estate

29th January, 2024
by Katie | 5 Min Read
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Konik ponies arrive at Lower Sharpham Farm
Mike Cooke, Ambios

Two ponies have arrived on The Sharpham Estate to help with rewilding.

The Konik ponies are mimicking wild horses that roamed the lands thousands of years ago, nibbling and browsing vegetation and keeping a check on plant growth naturally.

The ponies join Belted Galloways and Mangalitza pigs as part of a National Lottery Heritage Fund project Wild For People – restoring nature on former farmland near Totnes, South Devon.

New arrivals

Konik ponies on Sharpham Trust rewilding land, shortly after they were released.

Sharpham's caretaker Christian shot this footage from Brick Lane, looking towards the River Dart.

How do grazers help rewilding?

Our landscape evolved with the help of the animals that lived within it. Ancient livestock shaped the land by eating plants, fertilsing and disturbing the land.

Wild boar that used to inhabit Britain turned over the soil seeking tasty roots to eat – simultaneously enabling plants to seed easily and therefore adapting the land.

Aurochs (a now-extinct type of ancient cow) and Tarpans, ancient wild horses, browsed and nibbled on brambles, shoots, samplings and shrubby vegetation.

By doing so, they acted as ‘nature’s pruners’, preventing certain plants from dominating and allowing space for other species to thrive.

The grazers’ manure naturally fertilised the ground, ensuring soil-health & food for insects. Those insects were food for birds and small mammals, which were food for larger prey, weaving a rich ‘tapestry’ of nature.

By bringing in modern-day equivalents to ancient grazers, rewilding at Sharpham gets an enormous boost.

Konik ponies are from Poland and are descendants of very hardy Eastern European ponies. 

These two are called Sylvi and Stella and have been donated to Ambios by Wildwood - a native species conservation charity, with visitor nature parks in Devon and Kent. The ponies are both 15 years old and have spent their lives grazing on nature conservation projects in the UK.

Horsing around for the cameras

An ITV film crew visited to record the ponies' arriving on our rewilding land for the first time.

The footage went out on the teatime news, sharing our nature-restoration story with primetime viewers.

Konik ponies arrive at Lower Sharpham Farm
Mike Cooke, Ambios

How passers-by can support the ponies

The rewilding fields run either side of a permissive path linking Totnes to Ashprington, frequented by walkers, cyclists and dog-walkers.

Passers-by can support the charity’s rewilding efforts by not entering the fields and by keeping dogs on leads and out of the fields too.

People should NOT feed the ponies as this will disrupt their digestive systems. 

Common Blue butterfly on rewilding land at Sharpham

Nature's restoration continues at Sharpham

The rewilding project on the Sharpham Estate began four years ago with a £177,000 grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Fifty acres of conventional farmland has been converted to rewilding fields, thanks to a partnership between Ambios Ltd (a nature conservation training organisation) and The Sharpham Trust – the nature-mindfulness charity that operates the Sharpham Estate.

During the time of the Wild for People project:

  • Soil health has improved due to discontinued artificial fertilisers and pesticides

  • There’s been boosted numbers of great green bush crickets, perching birds like stonechats & linnets, small mammals like shrews and voles and larger birds that feed of them including barn owls and kestrels.

  • Hedgerows have expanded into fields, providing increased shelter and nesting/breeding sites for wildlife

  • The fields have changed from short, artificially-fertilised grass monoculture to tussocks of more diverse grasses which provide cover and breeding/feeding sites for insects and animals

  • Mangalitza pigs, mimicking wild boar, have turned over lots of the rewilding fields, opening up the soil and assisting wildflower seeds to set

  • Belted Galloway cattle, mimicking ancient Aurochs, have browsed and nibbled vegetation, fertilising the land naturally

  • Trees have been planted, adding to biodiversity, helping to hold the land together and sucking up rainwater

  • The Sharpham Estate has been officially designated an organic estate

  • Nature events have been hosted at Sharpham helping locals, families, schoolchildren and ‘citizen scientists’ to connect with the rewilding land

Konik ponies arrive at Lower Sharpham Farm
Mike Cooke, Ambios

Pony power will help rewilding

“We are delighted – this has been a long time coming – 4 years in the making, and actually it feels like bringing wild ponies back to these lands is connecting with our ancient ancestors, and with natural landscapes from centuries ago,” said Jack Skuse, rewilder and Ambios director. 

“The addition of ponies will have a major impact on the structural diversity of the vegetation – grazing the tall grasses and woody hedgerows plants – which in turn encourages greater biodiversity. This will offer vital, missing habitat for wildlife. 

For example, horses wallow in dry, sandy patches, which support insects who need these small sandy patches for breeding. Their addition will, we hope, support nature recovery at Sharpham, and bring missing wildlife back”  

Sharpham Trust Director Julian Carnell said that rewilding The Sharpham Estate illustrated the charity’s ethos perfectly – whilst highlighting the need to support nature wherever possible.

“We want to make a more mindful and sustainable world and we’re doing our bit at Sharpham,” he said. “The project is called Wild for People because we recognise that rewilding has to involve people and connect them back to the land.

“When people are connected to nature, they’re much less likely to want to harm it so if we can do that at the same time as supporting biodiversity, then that’s a real win-win”.

Around 1500 people a year come from all over the UK to stay on mindfulness retreats at The Sharpham Trust.

Each retreat incorporates nature-connection techniques and retreat-participants can access the rewilding land to witness the flora and fauna there.

Trust Director Julian Carnell being interviewed by an ITV film crew about rewilding
Richard Panniers, Sharpham volunteer

ITV West Country came to film the ponies

A film crew from ITV West Country came to film the Konik ponies, interviewing Jack Skuse, from our rewilding partners Ambios Ltd, and Trust Director Julian Carnell.

They filmed the ponies as they were released into our rewilding fields and captured our Mangalitsa pigs, whilst filming Julian.