New Forest conservationists step back in time with pair of heavy horses

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Toby Hoad directing his heavy horses Fleur and Celine
Toby Hoad using his two Comtois mares Fleur and Celine to transport coppice to the kiln

AN AWARD-winning conservation charity has taken a step back in time after recruiting a team of heavy horses to deliver timber for their first charcoal burn of the season.

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Pondhead Conservation Trust was set up as a community woodland project in 2014 with the aim of restoring 200 acres of unique coppice in the heart of the New Forest.

The group’s focus is on traditional woodland management methods so this year, with assistance from the New Forest Land Advice Service, they have enlisted the aid of Toby Hoad and his two heavy horses to extract cut timber and deliver it to their charcoal kiln.

All of their work is undertaken by volunteers who contribute over 5,000 hours per annum to the project to restore the largest area of hazel coppice remaining in the national park on the outskirts of Lyndhurst.

Since its inception, the group have won awards at local, regional and national level including the prestigious Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.

Derek Tippetts, trustee and volunteer co-ordinator of the Pondhead Conservation Trust said: “We are delighted to welcome Toby and his horses to our woodland.

“We’ve always had an ambition to use this old traditional method of timber extraction and we are grateful for the assistance provided by the New Forest NPA which has enabled us to turn our ambition into reality.

“Using heavy horses like Fleur and Celine in the woodland provides a low-impact option that minimises damage to stumps and standing timber.

“In addition, it doesn’t leave behind ruts or compaction of soil, all of which fits well with Pondhead Conservation Trust’s preferred methods of woodland management.”

Toby’s mares, Fleur and Celine, are Comtois horses from the Jura Mountains on the French – Swiss border. They are muscular with short legs and large chests and their low centre of gravity makes them ideal for forestry work.

Toby, who is based in Dorset, said: “For 80% of my work I would usually work them separately, but for forwarding work like this where they are moving all the hazel, the mares get on well together and work really nicely as a pair.”

The timber their work produces is used to make barbecue charcoal in their environmentally friendly kiln and the charcoal produced travels no further than 10 miles from the tree that was coppiced to produce it.

Derek Tippetts standing next to their kiln looking at the results of their first charcoal burn of the season as a result of the heavy horses work
Derek Tippetts opens up the kiln to view the results of their first charcoal burn of the season

The national park authority’s Heritage Lottery funded Landscape Partnership Scheme – Our Past, Our Future – funds a project called Working Woodlands of which the Pondhead group are part.

Gemma Stride, Working Woodlands project officer, commented: “Our project aims to provide advice and fund active management in woodlands for nature conservation benefits whilst utilising a proportion of felled timber for the local market.

“The Pondhead project is a perfect example of sustainable woodland management by harnessing local enthusiasm and expertise to create diverse habitats into the future.

“Horse extraction in this setting, utilising volunteers to aid the work is a wonderful way of demonstrating how, as a national park, we can protect our landscape, facilitate enjoyment and enhance the local economy.”

New volunteers are welcome to join the Pondhead project. For further information go to www.pondheadconservation.org.uk.

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