Squirrels, bats and ponies: saving endangered species at National Trust places

As animal lovers around the world celebrate World Animal Day, here is a glimpse into how the National Trust is caring for the endangered species which inhabit its places.

A day to celebrate and pay tribute to all animals and those that care for them, World Animal Day originally began as a way of highlighting the plight of endangered species. In 1931, a group of ecologists in Florence named the 4th October as ‘World Animal Day’ in honour of St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals. In the same spirit, here’s how the National Trust is working to protect the endangered species that have made Trust places their home.

Dartmoor Ponies at Parke, Devon

A close up view of a young brown and white Dartmoor pony with a blue sky in the Upper Plym Valley, Dartmoor National Park, Devon

©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

An iconic site at Dartmoor, it’s hard to believe that these pure-bred ponies are now an endangered species. Originally bred to work for the booming tin industry, they are recognisable for their strength, short legs, kindly eyes and alert ears.

Since 2007, the National Trust has been working alongside the Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust (DPHT) to help boost pony numbers. In 2010, a visitor centre was opened at a National Trust’s Parke estate on the southern edge of Dartmoor. The centre, with classrooms and indoor pony pens, allows visitors to learn more about the issues effecting their survival.

There is also ongoing training for wardens and rangers to help them deal with semi-feral ponies on conservation grazing sites. Increasing the number of Dartmoor ponies not only helps ensure their survival, but also the wider environment in which they live. Dartmoor ponies are widely used by the Trust to graze coastal scrub and areas of heathland throughout the country. Versatile and adaptable, these ponies are able to graze on poor vegetation to the benefit of all manner of native wildlife, including birds, butterflies and wildflowers.

When visiting one of the many sites where you can see the ponies openly grazing, it is important to remember not to feed them (as tempting as it may be) as the diet and health of these animals is crucial to their survival.

For more information on Dartmoor ponies at Parke and the work of the DPHT, see:

DPHT website: http://www.dpht.co.uk/

Parke: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/parke

Horseshoe bats at Cheddar Gorge, Somerset

Horseshoe bat

Among all the wildlife you can see at Cheddar, from British Cave spiders to native Soay sheep, both Greater and Lesser horseshoe bats roost in the caverns of Cheddar Gorge. Stick around until dusk and chances are you will spot them swooping in and out of the caves on hunting trips. Unfortunately, sightings are now literally down to chance, as both species are considered to be endangered.

With their numbers still declining, there are estimated to be only around 14,000 Lesser Horse Shoe Bats in Britain.* Cheddar boasts three roosts of horseshoe bats – an important stronghold for the species.

The ownership of Cheddar Gorge is shared between the National Trust, who own the cliffs on the north side of the gorge, and Longleat Estate, who own the south. Each year, both owners contribute funds to the conservation of the cliffs and its wildlife, including the horseshoe bats.

In 2012, Longleat Estate proposed to introduce a controversial cable car that would take visitors on a dramatic ride through the limestone cliffs. The National Trust stood with the CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England) against the proposal, maintaining that Cheddar was a Special Area of Conservation, not only for bats but also other endangered flora and fauna.

The Trust stated that ‘Longleat know the National Trust’s position and we even made the unprecedented move of opposing the move before any official plans were released. That’s how strongly we felt. We are not going to change our view.’ Due to the opposition from the Trust, CPRE and residents, no planning application for the cars was submitted.

Find out more about horseshoe bats and other wildlife at Cheddar here: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/cheddar-gorge/wildlife

Read more on the controversial cable car story here: http://www.cheddarvalleygazette.co.uk/National-Trust-draw-battle-lines-Cheddar-Gorge/story-20008277-detail/story.html#ixzz3FAtElfec

*Correct as of 2007

Red Squirrels at Borthwood Copse, Isle of Wight

As it is also Red Squirrel Week, it seemed nuts not to include these highly cute, highly endangered creatures (though perhaps without the cringe-worthy pun). The National Trust maintains several important areas where red squirrels can thrive. Among places such as Formby, Borrowdale and Brownsea Island, Borthwood Copse on the Isle of Wight is home to a population of some 3,500 red squirrels.

Numbers have been falling since the 1800’s when grey squirrels were introduced from America. Unfortunately, our native red squirrels didn’t stand much of a chance against their grey cousins, as grey squirrels out-compete them for habitat and carry the squirrel pox virus – fatal to reds.

This is why Borthwood is such special place for red squirrels. As an island, the Isle of Wight has no grey squirrels. It is even an offence to introduce them and there are tales ferries being turned away, sending furry grey stowaways back to the mainland.

Special highways mean squirrels can move freely between woods

©National Trust Images/John Millar

The Trust staff at Borthwood are actively managing woodland in order to support the healthy population of red squirrels. Small areas of hazel are coppiced on an eight to 14 year cycle to create a varied habitat, and regular hedge-laying encourages the spread of the red squirrels. High hedges act as special ‘highways’ which provide good cover in adverse weather conditions. Overhanging tree branches are also kept in place to leave ‘high-level corridors’ for the squirrels to traverse from tree to tree.

Trust staff at Borthwood therefore work to maintain this safe haven for red squirrels, away from their grey counterparts. But what about those places where both species live side by side?

To find out more about how other Trust places are working to increase red squirrel numbers, see below:

Borrowdale, Cumbria: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/borrowdale/wildlife/view-page/item1044521

Brownsea Island, Dorset: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/brownsea-island/wildlife/view-page/item484959

Formby, Liverpool: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/formby/wildlife/article-1355807425398

Mount Stewart, Northern Ireland: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/mount-stewart/wildlife/view-page/item422683

Written by Emily Jane Roe, Magazine and Publishing Intern at Heelis


One thought on “Squirrels, bats and ponies: saving endangered species at National Trust places

  1. I was glad to read that SO FAR the red squirrel population is intact on the Isle of Wight, but is the Trust prepared to take the ultimate step and shoot any grey squirrel that does come ashore. I seem to remember as a child that there was a bounty on them in WW2. We must be ruthless to preserve what traces of British heritage we have left.

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