Conservationists reintroduce feral herd to the fens of Cambridgeshire

By
Anna Edwards

07:55 EST, 13 September 2012


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09:32 EST, 13 September 2012

Tossing their manes about and sparring with each other on their hind legs, this scene could be something from the plains of America.

But incredibly this rare sight of wild stallions sparring was snapped in the rolling English countryside.

The konik horses, which have been imported from Holland to the wetlands of Wicken Fen, have clearly taken to their new pastures with ease, after they were spotted sparring in the grassy park just 10 miles away from Cambridge.

The horses have been brought in to graze on the wetlands and will be largely left to their own devices as they roam the countryside, with conservationists keeping their distance to allow the animals to flourish.

And these incredible photos show just how wild they can be.

Horses

Despite their horse play, the ponies are proving to be a great boost for the ecology of nature reserve, which is one of the oldest in Britain

Despite their horse play, the ponies are proving
to be a great boost for the ecology of nature reserve, which is one of
the oldest in Britain

What a spectacle: This rare sight of wild stallions sparring was snapped in the English countryside

What a spectacle: This rare sight of wild stallions sparring was snapped in the English countryside

What a spectacle: This rare sight of wild stallions sparring was snapped in the English countryside as the konik horses reared at each other

The new male foal has probably caused this display as male horses are concerned with dominance and maintaining their position in the herd

The new male foal has probably caused this display as male horses are concerned with dominance and maintaining their position in the herd

The koniks, which share many characteristics of the now-extinct Tarpan, the original wild horse of Europe¿s forests, are one of the largest animals ever to be introduced in to the UK

The koniks, which share many characteristics of the now-extinct Tarpan, the original wild horse of Europe¿s forests, are one of the largest animals ever to be introduced in to the UK

This behaviour has rarely been seen in Britain for 1,000 years when the last herds of wild horses roamed these fields.

And now this two-week-old konik foal will have to grow up fast to survive living with this wild herd.

The newborn boy kept close to his mum as he shyly watched the stallions reared up on their hind legs and boxed.

It is something the baby horse will be doing himself one day but for now he seemed happy to rest and watch.

‘The new male foal was born last week which is probably what has caused this. It’s all about dominance and maintaining their position in the herd,’ said Carol Laidlaw, conservation grazing ranger at Wicken Fen.

‘It is a pretty amazing sight to see two Stallions fighting like this in Britain and it gets the heart racing.

‘It’s something which you tend to see during the summer months, which is the main breeding season.’

The
koniks, which share many characteristics of the now-extinct Tarpan, the
original wild horse of Europe’s forests, are one of the largest animals
ever to be introduced in to the UK.

They have been imported to help manage the nature reserve in Cambridgeshire and roam freely across 150 hectares.

The primitive Polish breed, which are rarely taller than 13 hands high, are wetland specialists with a hardy and robust character

The primitive Polish breed, which are rarely taller than 13 hands high, are wetland specialists with a hardy and robust character

Leave me alone! Sometimes the horses are just playing, but other times it could be a bachelor stallion challenging the dominant stallion

Leave me alone! Sometimes the horses are just playing, but other times it could be a bachelor stallion challenging the dominant stallion

Charge! The sparring is something which tends to be sees during the summer months, which is the main breeding season

Charge! The sparring is something which tends to be sees during the summer months, which is the main breeding season

‘A lot of the time the behaviour between the stallions is just ritualistic posing,’ added Carol.

‘Sometimes the stallions are just playing and enjoying a bit of rough and tumble, but other times it could be a bachelor stallion challenging the dominant stallion.

‘Usually one will back down but it can escalate and sometimes injuries do occur.’

The 60-strong herd is settling in well
at Wicken Fen and 14 foals have now been born this year. The latest was
born to mother Esther.

‘It’s an ideal environment and the fact they are breeding so well shows they are happy and settled,’ she said.

‘We have lots of visitors who come especially to see the koniks and will walk miles to find them.’

Surprisingly the ponies, which have been imported from Holland, are generally known for their quiet temperament.

The
primitive Polish breed, which are rarely taller than 13 hands high, are
wetland specialists with a hardy and robust character.

The koniks help to keep the land open by grazing on weeds, reeds and grass and give plants, birds and insects the chance to settle in an area

Steady on! The koniks help to keep the land open by grazing on weeds, reeds and grass and give plants, birds and insects the chance to settle in an area – when they are not fighting with each other

Run for cover! The sparring is something the baby horse will be doing himself one day but for now he seemed happy to rest and watch

Run for cover! The sparring is something the baby horse will be doing himself one day but for now he seemed happy to rest and watch

The new two-week-old konik foal will have to grow up fast to survive living with this wild herd after seeing them kick and bite at each other

The new two-week-old konik foal will have to grow up fast to survive living with this wild herd after seeing them kick and bite at each other

They are self-reliant and are characterised by a large head, broad body, strong legs and a two-tone blond and dark mane.

They share many characteristics with the tarpan, a pre-historic wild horse which roamed Britain before the last Ice Age, but was hunted to extinction.

The last tarpan died in Russia in 1879 but the koniks have many of its features, such as zebra striping on their legs.

‘Koniks are a primitive breed and you want animals who are able to cope on their own if you are going for hands-off extensive grazing,’ added Carol.

‘They are very robust so we don’t have to interfere too much if they are ill, which means we can leave them to live a natural a life as possible.’

The ponies are proving to be a great boost for the ecology of nature reserve, which is one of the oldest in Britain.

The koniks help to keep the land open by grazing on weeds, reeds and grass and give plants, birds and insects the chance to settle in an area.

 

The comments below have not been moderated.

They’re lovely but I do wonder why the National Trust didn’t pick on the the British breeds to use. Many of our native breeds are rare now. It would be nice to see them being used for things like this.

Lou
,

York,
13/9/2012 19:40

These are splendid pictures but it ought to be noted that fighting stallions can be very dangerous. Unwisely, the National Trust people have introduced them – along with Scottish Highland cattle that are also non-native to Cambridgeshire – into what is supposed to be a wildlife reserve where members of the public, including children, are encouraged to wander at will. I live nearby and no way would I go where these fighting stallions are. I would advise others also to beware. I would also advise the National Trust to listen more to us locals who are horrified by what is going on where perfect peace once reigned.

Geoffrey Woollard
,

South East Cambridgeshire, United Kingdom,
13/9/2012 19:05

They’ll soon get f_ _ k _d up by human intervention like most things we touch.

fred bloggs
,

Hope, United Kingdom,
13/9/2012 18:38

In that other article you’ve got photos of beautiful horses and these ones are ugly. Why didn’t they choose a nicer breed to release? Why does this country always feel sorry for the ugly?

– Sarah , London…………………………
Firstly, they ARE beautiful horses. Secondly, most breeds couldn’t survive the conditions like they can. That’s why they were selected. They’re not there to look pretty.

Lexie
,

Liverpool,
13/9/2012 18:14

love this but who will save them from the inevitable cull?

fanois
,

york, United Kingdom,
13/9/2012 17:55

Wow what gorgeous and unique looking horses. I love em. I wonder though, without natural predators how their numbers will be managed. You can’t just mess with nature like that because it make you feel good inside. At some point they breed to the point of destroying not only the countryside but themselves due to lack of food. And God forbid you Brits take up hunting to keep the numbers down. That would be BARBARIC! LOL

Maxlugar
,

New York,
13/9/2012 17:30

Dutch Lotte – These are dumb animals – they don’t do ‘cheeky’ or ‘impressed’. I’m glad these big ugly specimens are nowhere near me.

Chris Allan
,

The Menagerie, United Kingdom,
13/9/2012 16:34

A nice idea but who is going to protect them from rustlers and the local meat trade?

Excalibur
,

London,
13/9/2012 16:12

I love the cheeky smile on the horse on the right in picture eight and the horse on the right in number 5 doesn’t look impressed. Horses are such beautiful and expressive creatures, I’m so glad that Cambridgeshire is now home to these fine specimens.

Dutch Lotte
,

London, United Kingdom,
13/9/2012 16:01

I used to live at Wicken Fen, it’s gorgeous, a lot of visitors though who walk their dogs there, hope these beautiful creatures will be left in peace and people aren’t tempetd to feed them, fond memories would love to have seen them out of my window in the mornings!

Houndlady
,

English lady abroad,
13/9/2012 15:58

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