Posted 13th Jan 2014
Woodland managers in the New Forest have been going back in time, taking the reins of one-ton horses to clear timber from wooded sites using traditional horse logging techniques dating back to the 1950s
The techniques are being taught to local people in a bid to reduce the high level of unmanaged private woodland in the National Park, which currently stands at over 40 per cent. 13 people learnt how to handle Percheron draft horses at a recent event at Roydon Woods, near Brockenhurst, led by Robert Sampson of Harbridge Working Percherons - a New Forest company that has been breeding and working these horses since 1951.
Woodland management is particularly important in the New Forest as its woods are home to a wide range of wildlife and contain the highest population of ancient and veteran trees in western Europe.
If woods are left unmanaged:
- the quality of the habitat declines
- fewer wildlife species are found
- pests and disease outbreaks increase
- invasive plants such as rhododendron and Japanese knotweed spread
- the quality of the timber is poor
Horses can play a crucial role in managing sites which are wet, steep or impossible to reach with modern machinery. Percheron horses can remove around eight to 10 tonnes of timber from a site in a day - more than the weight of a double decker bus! They cause less damage to the ground, are cost effective and it often means footpaths can remain open while work is taking place.
Georgianna Watson, New Forest Land Advice Service Advisor, said: ‘Trainees had the exciting and rare opportunity to take the reins of these incredible horses and learn how they can be used to remove timber from sites that are hard to access.
‘It is crucial that we teach woodland management skills to anybody who owns or manages woodland, in order to reduce the large proportion of unmanaged woodland in the New Forest and beyond.'
The New Forest Land Advice Service is funded by the New Forest National Park Authority, Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, Natural England and the Verderers. Anybody interested in future training events should register their interest via email to Georgianna.Watson@nflandadvice.org.uk.
Did you know...
- The Percheron is a breed of draft horse originating from Perche, a former province of northern France
- The breed was used extensively in Europe during World War One, with some horses shipped from the United States to France to help in the fighting
- Percherons began to be bred in Great Britain in 1918
- In the UK, 66 inches is the shortest acceptable height for stallions, while weights range from around 910kg to 1,000kg