Tank track goes back to na­ture in Army’s pony club

Unique na­ture re­serve in the mid­dle of a mil­i­tary gar­ri­son turns to an­i­mals to clear in­vad­ing species

Yorkshire Post - - NEWS - DAVID BEHRENS COUNTY COR­RE­SPON­DENT ■ Email: david.behrens@ypn.co.uk ■ Twit­ter: @york­shire­post

IT IS an odd lit­tle oa­sis in what oth­er­wise would be a field of com­bat. Where once the cater­pil­lar tracks of the army’s Chief­tain tanks churned up the soil, a pair of Ex­moor ponies now graze con­tent­edly.

The na­ture re­serve at the heart of Cat­t­er­ick Gar­ri­son is the only one of its kind in Bri­tain, and the ar­rival this week of the ponies Lark and Taurus took it back even fur­ther to its roots.

It was 25 years ago that the last tank trun­dled across what was then a ten-hectare site within what the army refers to as its North­ern Su­per Gar­ri­son. By that time, the pound­ing it had taken from 50 Chief­tains, and the ef­fects of the fenc­ing put up to keep out ter­ror­ists, had re­duced it to a wilder­ness.

But Tony Crease, a ma­jor with an in­ter­est in wildlife, saw that it could be re­turned to na­ture.

“The land hadn’t been cul­ti­vated for years,” he said. “A lot of it had been land­locked be­cause it was in­ac­ces­si­ble and had lain fal­low for 20 years since the days of the IRA, when fenc­ing had been placed around large ar­eas.

“There had been no tree­cut­ting or in­ter­fer­ence or man­age­ment. It was a wilder­ness – that’s the only word for it.”

Today, the con­ser­va­tion area es­tab­lished be­hind Cat­t­er­ick’s Cam­brai bar­racks, with money and man­power from the Royal Scots Dra­goon Guards, ex­tends to 40 hectares, is home to more than 2,600 species, and has played host to 770,000 vis­i­tors – all of whom have had to pass through the guard­room.

“There’s no other place in the coun­try that’s quite like it,” said Maj Crease, who is now re­tired from ac­tive ser­vice but still work­ing with the Min­istry of De­fence.

He had con­ceived the idea of tak­ing a corner of Cat­t­er­ick back to the land af­ter see­ing sim­i­lar projects in Ger­many dur­ing his 25 years there.

“There were 1,200 young sol­diers here at that time and this was an av­enue for them,” he said.

The two ponies, on loan from the York­shire Ex­moor Pony Trust and fi­nanced as part of a £30,000 con­ser­va­tion project, will help con­trol in­va­sive species of flora by the nat­u­ral method of eat­ing those not re­quired.

Steve Scof­fin, se­nior re­serve man­ager at what is now known as the Fox­glove Covert na­ture re­serve, said: “What you re­ally need to use is a breed of pony from an area with rough graz­ing.

“That’s why we chose Ex­moors. A third of their diet is gorse, and it’s that and the in­vad­ing birch that we need to be eaten.

“They will re­move what don’t want and leave what we need.

“Oth­er­wise, it would be done man­u­ally, or we would have to get a me­chan­i­cal cut­ter and then rake ev­ery­thing off, just to do what the ponies are do­ing for us.”

Mr Scof­fin, who has spent his ca­reer in en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion, says the Fox­glove re­serve is unique. “I have been in the coun­try­side for nearly 40 years and I’ve never man­aged a re­serve which wasn’t openly ac­ces­si­ble to the pub­lic at all times,” he said.

“This one is open dur­ing the day but vis­i­tors have to come through the gate and then through the guard­room.

“It’s only a na­ture re­serve at all be­cause it was sur­plus to re­quire­ments for tank train­ing 25 years ago, and it was felt that it would be use­ful to de­velop it.”

The ponies, about 10 years old, have spent their lives on sim­i­lar ex­er­cises and are used to each other’s com­pany, Mr Scof­fin said.

They will re­move what don’t want and leave what we need. Steve Scof­fin, se­nior re­serve man­ager at the Fox­glove Covert na­ture re­serve.

PIC­TURES: SI­MON HULME.

BACK TO NA­TURE: Steve Scof­fin is pic­tured with the Ex­moor ponies Lark and Taurus now help­ing to hold in­vaders at bay on the for­mer tank train­ing ground in North York­shire; the Fox­glove Covert na­ture re­serve at Cat­t­er­ick Gar­ri­son; a Chief­tain tank on test in 1968.

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