Saturday, 16 May 2015

Konik Sponsorship

Last weekend saw the launch of Wicken Fen's new Konik Pony Sponsorship scheme. Organised by one of our dedicated volunteers, the scheme aims to generate extra funding to support the Konik herds that live here at Wicken.

One of last years foals enjoying some winter sun back in February

The Konik Ponies, along with the Highland Cattle, are an essential part of the management of the wider nature reserve. The Wicken Fen Vision Projects aims to create a 53km2 nature reserve. This large an area would be impossible to manage using only manpower and machinery so the livestock do the work for us. Their grazing creates a mosaic of habitats, stopping any one plant out competing the others. 

Cheeky Chelsea investigating the ruins on Guinea Hall
The herds are managed in a very hands off way, we leave them to express as many natural behaviours as possible. This means we don't castrate the stallions or bulls, we don't worm them and we don't supplementary feed them. By allowing them to behave naturally, they shape the landscape by more than just grazing it. The stallions will display to each other to win their right to breed with the mares, and part of this displaying involves creating very large piles of dung. Each of the stallions will contribute to this pile, using it as a sort of notice board to let other stallions know who they are and how recently they've been there. These dung piles have been surveyed for beetles (Coleoptera) and 120 species were identified to be associated with them. In 2013 15 species of beetle new to the fen were found on these dung piles, one of them being incredibly rare, and classified as endangered in the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red Data Book. Margarinotus obscurus is a carnivorous species that predates on dung beetles that congregate on the stallions dung piles. 
Peanut, one of this year's foals

The Koniks were chosen as the best breed to graze this area for several reasons. They are a hardy primitive breed, closely related to the now extinct Tarpan horse, the native wild European horse. This means they can cope in the extremes of weather, and don't need routine medical treatment such as worming. This hardiness also gives them an incredible ability to recover from injuries without veterinary treatment. They also have a proven ability to cope in wetlands without getting any hoof problems. Importantly they have a friendly temperament which means they will tolerate people near them even with minimal interference. This is important for the way we manage them as it means we can get close enough to get a good look at any injuries and makes any treatments necessary less stressful for both them and us.

Egg, currently the only colt born this year on Adventurer's Fen

The ponies can play tricks on you while you're checking them. It took me a minute to figure out where one pony started and the other ended with these two sisters!
While the ponies are left to their own devices as much as possible, there is work involved in managing them. They are checked on every single day of the year to identify and monitor any injuries or illnesses. The vet will be called out in cases when the animal's welfare is in jeopardy. There are miles of fences to be checked, built and maintained every year. We are researching their DNA profiles to get a better idea of the way their social and family structures work. We test their poo 4 times a year so we have a clear idea of their worm burden and when we need to step in. 

Galaxy is doing well with first time mum Lottie
This is where the sponsorship scheme comes in. To support the Koniks and the vital work they are doing, we are asking for a £25 donation to sponsor the herd for a year. To see thank you, the sponsors will receive a welcome pack (containing a photo of the Koniks, a certificate of sponsorship and a fact sheet about the ponies), three newsletters through the year to keep them updated with the herds' goings on, an invite to an exclusive guided walk and the chance to enter a name the foal competition. For more information and to download an sponsorship form, please visit or by emailing

Out newest addition. A little boy on Burwell Fen.