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Why Pole foal is a reserve winner

PUBLISHED: 20:22 16 April 2008 | UPDATED: 10:28 12 July 2010

The new arrival.

The new arrival.

One of the region's nature reserves has welcomed the first of an expected four foals to be born to a herd of primitive Polish ponies this year.

Suffolk Wildlife Trust uses the hardy Konik ponies as part of the conservation management and restoration of Redgrave and Lopham Fen nature reserve.

One of the region's nature reserves has welcomed the first of an expected four foals to be born to a herd of primitive Polish ponies this year.

Suffolk Wildlife Trust uses the hardy Konik ponies as part of the conservation management and restoration of Redgrave and Lopham Fen nature reserve.

Staff said the dun coloured mother and her three-week-old filly foal are doing well, as is 16-year-old Nord, the resident father and stallion, who after a somewhat confused and uncertain start soon warmed to his task.

The trust uses the ponies to graze the wetland fen as they are manageable and efficient browsers and grazers. At home in the wettest of conditions, they can graze on permanently wet ground without suffering health problems.

The trust investigated the suitability of the UK's native breeds of pony first but most are moorland breeds - Exmoor, Highland and Shetland - which are very hardy, but don't cope well with prolonged very wet conditions or open water.

Konik ponies are used to wintering outdoors in their native Poland where temperatures regularly drop to below -14 C.

Their husbandry requirements are minimal since they're rarely ill and wounds heal quickly. They also have a higher fertility than domestic stock, with easy births.

The site is the largest remaining river valley fen in England and the source of the River Waveney. As one of the most important wetlands in Europe, the fen now has international protection.

The Konik ponies have successfully been munching their way through areas of the fen since five of the animals were introduced in 1995 at the start of a pioneering conservation project aimed at restoring the site.

Prior to this the fen had been left unmanaged for years which had resulted in many of the typical fenland plants disappearing.

The trust's restoration project has included the reinstatement of traditional management involving grazing with the resilient Konik herd, cattle and sheep, peat scraping to expose fresh wet peat and the re-siting of a public water abstraction borehole.

This has resulted in rehydration of the fen and the gradual return of its wonderful wildlife. Already wetland species such as butterwort, marsh fragrant orchid and cross-leaved heath have made a comeback as have breeding snipe.

Valley fen sites manager Andrew Excell said: “Our sturdy herd of Koniks have certainly proved their worth and are helping us achieve the pioneering conservation vision for which they were acquired.

“There are eleven adult horses at our Redgrave and Lopham site at the moment and five grazing at Market Weston Fen where they perform the same valuable task. They may move to Hopton Fen later on this year.”

The ponies are the result of a selective breeding programme in Poland which is attempting to recreate the primitive Tarpan horse, now extinct, from which these 'modern Tarpan' horses, or Konik ponies are direct descendants.

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