From the 17th to 24th June, Leicestershire-based conservationist David Murray embarked upon an expedition along the Line of Leicester’s Roman Wall with two specially trained Fell pack ponies, Lucy and Elsa. The expedition, which took 8 months to plan was organised to help save this breed from extinction in its native, northern England home. As a conservationist, David is passionate about this cause, as the breed is invaluable because it helps conserve British wild plant and animal species.
Fell ponies are good-natured and hardy, are stocky, usually 13 to 14hh and are known for their thick, often black coats and long manes, tails and feather. The breed is popular in both showing and driving and famously is adored by our very own Queen, who is the patron of the Fell Pony Society! However, according to the Fell Pony Society, the only way to preserve the characteristics of the breed, is for breeders to go back to extensively grazing, hefted, acclimatised, semi-wild stallions. A study by David has shown that increasing numbers of Fell pony breeders in Cumbria and the Lake District are retiring as grazing on the uplands is becoming more limited, leaving only about 100 or so semi-wild breeding females throughout Britain. In support of this study’s findings, the Fell Pony Society highlights, “There will be no more than a dozen herds of ponies reared on the fell in the UK this year. More needs to be done to keep them in their natural environment.”
David maintains, “The only way to ensure the survival of native Fell ponies in their natural environment, is for all organisations involved in conservation to recognise that the Fell pony is bio-diversity and that it is an important conservation grazer”.
The expedition was a fantastic way to increase awareness for this cause as it gave David, Lucy and Elsa the opportunity to meet with local communities including approximately 300 children and their teachers at Leicester’s Jewry Wall Museum and Jubilee Square, and to educate them on the importance of this breed within our eco-systems. The children also learned about the historic links between modern day Fell ponies and the building of Hadrian’s Wall and Leicester’s Roman Wall. Their journey has been reported in the press and also on Leicester City’s website.
Despite Leicester’s traffic and the extreme air temperatures experienced during the expedition, David and the ponies, aided each day by two Leicester City Council road marshals and a colleague, completed their journey safely. SPILLERS were also happy to help by providing High Fibre Cubes for the ponies during the training phases in the Lake District National Park and in Leicestershire, and also during the expedition, as well as nutritional advice. Both ponies, walking with packsaddles ended the expedition in perfect physical and mental condition.
If you would like to find out more about why Britain’s remaining marginally wild equine herds are facing extinction in their natural habitats, and how we might protect them you can do so by reading David’s recently published book ‘Walking with Houyhnhnms’ which is based upon David’s 2011 expedition along Hadrian’s Wall with semi-wild pack ponies. More information can also be found on David’s website www.shadow-of-the-wall.co.uk.
The book is now available from Waterstones. The E-Book will be available on Amazon.co.uk from the 7th August.