Thursday, 14 August 2014

Horses are Roaming on Burwell Fen

As you may have noticed, if you have ventured out to Burwell Fen recently, the Koniks have now joined the Highland cattle. Two weeks ago, the Ranger Team, with assembled helpers, spent two days moving the horses from Harrison's over to Burwell. It was planned with military precision, with the order the horses were moved being very important. We had to get the family groups, or hareems, over as close together as possible. In our herd the hareems are usually made up of one or two stallions, who look after and get to mate with up to four mares, and then the mares foals and sometimes the foals from the year before. They need to be moved over at a similar time so as not to affect the hierarchy structure too much. All the males on Burwell have now been castrated or vasectomised so we can control the number of animals on Burwell a little easier. We vasectomised the stallions so that we didn't lose their dominance behaviour which helped to create new habitats on Adventure's Fen. Last year a species of Dung beetle was rediscovered at Wicken Fen on one of the dung piles the stallions create. All the stallions dung in the same spot, leaving a sort of olfactory calling card. So the other stallions will come along and smell who was there before and then add to the pile. This leaves large piles of dung about the place which are great for dung beetles. The new dung beetle that was found predates on the dung beetles feeding on the dung pile, meaning we have a very healthy population of dung beetles and the dung piles are the start of a long food chain!

The vet and his nurse preparing one of teh stallions or the operation

The actual process of moving the animals involved penning the horses with mobile hurdles, with the vet sedating any that were a bit feisty. The trailer was then reversed up to this pen, and the horses were encouraged into it by making the pen smaller and smaller until the horses decided trailer was the nicer option! It has to be done in this unusual way because the horses aren't trained to wear halters or come to food, so we have to use gentle persuasion instead. At the other end, on Burwell Fen, they were then released into a small holding pen to get their feet back under them, before being released into the fen.

two horses penned and waiting to be transported

One of the horses being pursuaded onto the trailer

As I was on holiday when all this happened, I want to say well done to all the guys involved as they did it so efficiently they had a day spare at the end of the week!

I would also like to thank the team from Mathworks who came in for a work party at the end of July. They did a great job refreshing our education area, painting the shelters, fixing the roofs and creating a new log rolling area. And I know they had good fun doing it as well!

A welcome to Luke, our new long term volunteer, and a big thank you to Pete and Andy, our previous long term volunteers who both left us at the end of July for new jobs!

And finally, when I plugged the camera into the computer today to find the pictures of the horse movements, I was greated with this, clearly Ranger Jack very much enjoyed his day with the grazing team!


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