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Ex-moor Ponies Re-wild Rosewood!

By Rosewood Farm, Oct 24 2016 05:00PM

Avid Rosewood followers will know that we were awarded many more acres of grazing on the nature reserve we work on, including an area known as 'Seavy Carr' which we were particularly excited to get, as it is the roughest of the rough and represents the kind of real challenge we enjoy getting our teeth into! To make the locally notorious Seavy Carr productive would be the biggest test of our techniques and given the current neglected state of it which has seen the numbers of wading birds drop to all-time lows, seeing the snipe return as a result of our actions would be like winning the Oscars for us!

As soon as we took on Seavy Carr, another 80acres on top flowed our way from other local farmers who feel they can not justify the expense and trouble of keeping cattle on their more marginal land. We need more mouths out there, to halt the dominance of rushes and hairgrass and stop the encroaching scrub to bring back the redshanks, the snipe, the otters, owls and harriers. But we can only afford or justify more cattle and sheep if we have the meat orders to back it up.

However, even in the unlikely event we somehow magically doubled our business overnight and can justify going out and doubling the size of the cattle herd AND sheep flock, we're still going to be under our carrying capacity. So, there is a little space here for a helpful side-project...

...which is why as we type 5 Exmoor pony mares are winging their way up the M1 from Exmoor to Seavy Carr to begin the Rosewood Herd. No, pony meat will not be making it's way into the shop (ironically, if the British public could get its head round pony meat we could justify keeping many more, but until then the numbers will probably remain in the single digits...just sayin').

Autumn, Antelope, Nectar, Natterjack & Rowan
Autumn, Antelope, Nectar, Natterjack & Rowan

Exmoor ponies seem to have a lot in common with our Dexter cattle. They are both small, they are both freakishly tough, able to survive on rough vegetation in exposed areas, and both freakishly strong; Exmoors are able to carry an adult with ease and anyone who's tried to hold onto a bolting Dexter at a show will tell you about their strength despite their size!

They are also both thought to be animals that our Bronze Age ancestors would have recognised. The exact story having been lost to time, bone and DNA evidence currently suggest that both are the closest living relatives of the 'British Hill Pony', used by the Celts to draw their chariots, and the 'Celtic Shorthorn' respectively. Archeology is just now revealing what a boom-time this period was for our fen-like, marshy landscape and the important role livestock played within this culture. We feel that Exmoors will be right at home here!

Our first 5 mares fresh off the trailer from Exmoor
Our first 5 mares fresh off the trailer from Exmoor

Just as Dexters nearly came to grief in the past as modern farming moved on without them, Exmoors were so very nearly lost forever at one point. During the late 40s, there was perhaps no more than 50 worldwide in total. The ponies had survived Henry VIII's cull of small horses and provided transport for the Exmoor locals since time immemorial, but as motor vehicles came in, roads improved and people got hungry during WWII, gradually more and more were lost.

Ours are coming up from the historic Anchor herd. In 1818 the crown sold off Exmoor Forest and Sir Thomas Acland, the outgoing warden, took just 30 ponies and founded the herd now known as Anchor. WWII nearly finished them off however when a butcher rounded up all forty animals to illegally sell the meat elsewhere. Luckily, a dozen animals escaped and thus, the herd survived. Their plucky ancestors are now founding our herd!

They look so strangely 'right' in this landscape...
They look so strangely 'right' in this landscape...

Exmoors are still struggling. Still classified as 'endangered' by the RBST, which is only one step away from the dreaded 'critical' category. Like all our native breeds of equine, they seem to be struggling to find a place in the modern world. We're not sure what the answer is, as the days of animal transport are firmly over and Britain remains resistant to horsemeat. Few have the budget or inclination to keep horses for fun and there are many British native breeds which need viable populations in order to save them. But for now, Rosewood is honoured and pleased to be in a position to offer a home to a genetic pool of these ancient British ponies.

As for Seavy Carr, the icing on our cake was to be told that Natural England intend to construct a car park and viewing platform there so that visitors can add it to their tour of the reserve. Wheldrake and Duffield Ings are already firmly established favourites with birdwatchers and we hope that Seavy Carr can become a favourite for its Dexters and Exmoors, showing the grazers which create the habitat for waders and reminding people how important it is for these animals (and their keepers) to have a viable future, for the sake of our wildlife.

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