29. My Little Pony by Kevin O'Hara

Tuesday 24th May 2011

© NWT

I was chatting to an elderly fellow the other day and he was lamenting about the state of the countryside and how over there they used to grow ‘tatties’ and how he helped pick them as a lad and “over there they had grown wheat and the land was lovely and everything in the garden was rosy.”

I’m like that myself when I listen to most of the music today and it only seems like yesterday that my parents were saying the same thing to me. It is a never ending story that just keeps going in circles, everything was better in ‘days gone by.’ Well perhaps to some degree they were in many aspects but in others we have to keep with the times and learn from the past but make use of that experience.

He mentioned how there was more wildlife 60 years ago and I pointed out that 60 years ago we were not using as many harmful chemicals or farming so intensively. He also recalled how they farmed differently, in a rotation system where one year in four fields was left fallow and everything had a chance to rest.

But he was also bitter about that lack of, as he saw it, ‘land use’; he couldn’t stand to see land, as he saw it, ‘out of production’. I could see his point in some ways as the morning radio had reminded me just how much produce we import from abroad and how little we produce ourselves.

Things are now however, whether we like it or not, substantially different and options to turn the clock back are unfortunately in many cases unfeasible and uneconomical.

However there are always opportunities, because of the economics of certain areas some land in simple terms is no longer viable for intensive production; certain upland areas and poorly drained lands mean that in both economic and environmental terms they are best left alone to minimal intervention.

As a Trust we manage a lot of such areas from the dune hinterland of Druridge Bay, the uplands of Whitelee moor to the lowland areas in and around Prestwick Carr. One way we have of managing these areas is to use conservation grazing as a tool; grazing methods and species that were once common in the past but are now rare. Despite being burdened by red tape etc. about livestock movements and the likes this is a very old fashioned method of ensuring conservation quality of such important habitats as wet grassland, rough pasture and woodland. I mentioned pigs (wild boar) in woodlands a few weeks ago, well this is another element to that.

In the past week we took delivery of some very special helpers, we have used them in Druridge Bay before and several other locations but now we are employing them on a larger scale along with some rare breed sheep and some soon to be delivered highland cattle. Exmoor ponies as their name suggests like nothing better than wild windswept landscapes as found in the Bay and at Prestwick Carr.

They will be used to break up the monotony of the present vegetational cover. They can be very selective about what they eat but on the whole they will eat a whole range of plant stuff others would not, such as thistles.

They don’t mind it being a bit damp too so along with the highlanders we will introduce them into the damp woodland areas to continue breaking up the habitats and to diversify the structures within. Their trampling actions will help aerate the ground and break up the sod. This will afford more habitats for rare ground nesting birds such as snipe. In other words we will let nature get on with it for a while and let the land recharge its batteries.

There is another plus side of course a saleable product, conservation grade meat from organic sheep and cattle and boy does it taste nice.