Tuesday, 15 December 2015

A year in the life of a National Trust pony

Grazing the heath at Beagles

The National Trust has had ponies here on the Lizard for over 20 years, grazing the coastal heaths and grasslands for the benefit of wildlife. Our original herd, now aged over 30, is still going strong, proving a life of sea air does you good! These purebred Shetland ponies came to us from Arlington Court, a National Trust estate in north Devon, where some of their old pals still live today.

Taking it easy on a sunny day at Chynalls Point
Chough benefit from coastal grazing
This herd numbers 5, and they are kept busy year round grazing our cliffs. The ponies rotate around the 3 sites we manage in-hand, namely the cliffs between Poltesco and Cadgwith, the promontory fort at Chynalls Point, Coverack, and the heath at Beagles, near Black Head.  The ponies do an excellent job of managing these Sites of Special Scientific Interest, by keeping the coarser grasses in check, and providing space for 
smaller plants to thrive, including some of our Lizard botanical rarities, like twin headed clover and dwarf rush. The chough also benefit from grazing, as they need the grass to be short enough for them to be able to probe the ground with their red beaks for invertebrates, and the dung also provides a welcome source of grubs. We’ve been treated to the fantastic sight of chough in amongst the grazing ponies at Enys Head, and it’s always worth listening out for their call on the cliffs.

Having their feet trimmed by the farrier
The ponies are sure footed and hardy, and they thrive in these tough habitats. In fact the biggest health risk to them is associated with them eating too much rich grass, which is most likely in Spring or Autumn. Laminitis is a painful hoof condition, which can lead to lameness, so we need to keep them on tight rations to avoid this. Shetlands like their food, and would balloon to be rotund if given half the chance!
Encounters with the equine dentist Photo M Hirst

Our herd gets an annual vet inspection, when their weight and teeth are checked, and they are wormed if necessary, and their feet trimmed by a farrier. Occasionally a visit by the equine dentist is required to correct tooth overgrowth. The industrial looking files are enough to put us all off the dentist forever!

Conservation grazing is no laughing matter!
The ponies are checked daily, and we thank our dedicated pony volunteers for their help with this task throughout the year. The only time we give them any additional food is to coax them with a bucket of nuts when we want to move them. If you meet the ponies out and about, please don’t feed them, as too much contact could teach them to pester people in the hope of an apple. They don’t mind having their photo taken though, so feel free to snap away! 


Thursday, 10 December 2015

Mild and wet, but why?

With the eyes of the world on the climate change conference in Paris this week we have been looking at the effects of climate change locally.

Stormy seas breach Loe Bar Jan/Feb 2014
As winter takes hold this year there are many of us wondering just why it's so mild. There is no doubt that climate change is happening, the effects can be seen from the poles to the equator including right here on our own doorsteps in Cornwall. Climate change is linked to the extreme weather events that we’ve had over the last few years and are set to continue to have in years to come. It is predicted that Britain will continue to have progressively drier summers and warmer wetter winters if global temperatures continue to rise even by what might be considered the smallest of fractions. You might be thinking that warmer weather seems quite attractive but even a 2 degree difference could have significant consequences for future generations to come.

Beach rubbish brought ashore by stormy seas
It’s believed that the storms we saw in 2014 here on the south coast of Cornwall will happen more often which poses a threat not only to our homes but to the local wildlife also. With storm surges and global sea level rise also comes the very real risk of flooding and changes to the shape of our coastline. Storms also damage habitats and as species behavior changes the balance between predators and prey becomes affected and many species choose to simply move putting habitats under even more pressure.

It is hoped that the meeting in Paris this week will achieve an agreement to limit emissions of carbon dioxide, the gas scientists believe is most responsible for driving climate change. It is also hoped that agreements will be made on the way we farm, manufacture and consume goods around the world, if this happens then it will be considered one of the most significant processes in climate change history. 

Rising levels in Loe Pool affecting wildlife habitats


Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Fantastic Ferns

Ferns are one of the oldest plant groups in the world; believe it or not some of today’s British ferns were here when the dinosaurs still roamed, however, they often get overlooked. Many ferns look similar on a first glance, and they lack flowers to make them stand out from the crowd but the beauty is in the detail!

Harts-tongue fern (Asplenium scolopendrium)
Ferns can give you some really interesting clues about the environment that you’re in. Below are a few of my favourite ferns and what they indicate.

Harts-tongue fern (Asplenium scolopendrium)  is one of the most recognisable ferns we have in Britain, . It  is the only "simple" or undivided British fern, giving it a very unfern-like appearance. Growing clues! - Harts-tongue loves lime-rich soils in sheltered spots so, if you see one, the chances are you are standing on a calcareous bedrock. Also, the fronds will be bigger and greener the more sheltered and wet the site is. It will also grow on walls, but the fronds are usually much smaller and more yellow in colour.

Two very similar looking species, called Polypodies (Common - Polypodium vulgare, Intermediate - Polypodium interjectum) can be a real mission to tell apart, luckily we don't have to! Both species are most commonly found growing on sheltered banks and walls, however, they can also grow on tree branches on mossy mats - these are the ones to look out for.  Growing clues! - The maximum height at which they grow up a tree is an excellent barometer for how humid an environment they are growing in, with those in particularly humid spots growing on branches 10m+ off the ground.

Hard fern (Blechnum spicant)
Hard fern (Blechnum spicant) is an unusual fern in Britain as it has two different types of fronds - those that are fertile and those that aren't. Growing clues! -  This fern loves acidic soil and lots of rain, so it’s unlikely you will see this and Harts tongue fern growing together, but they can be a great indicator that the geology under your feet has changed.

There are plenty more interesting ferns; here is a great page by the British Pteridological Society which has loads more info on our fantastic range of British ferns.

If you have any questions or find a cool fern or one you’re not sure about, feel free to post it on our facebook page and I will try and help! 

- Ryan

Contact us


Email *

Message *