Fantastic results. Wild horses in new reserves have helped rare plants, beetles and endangered aquatic bird species

2018 - 07 - 31
Fantastic results. Wild horses in new reserves have helped rare plants, beetles and endangered aquatic bird species

For seven months, wild horses from Exmoor have been grazing at two natural sites in east Bohemia. At a site found on the outskirts of Hradec Kralove, horses help manage warm sandy habitats and reed beds of a local fish pond. In the Josefovske louky Bird Park (Josefov Meadows), they graze the local wet, waterlogged meadows. Conservationists are delighted that the results achieved so far are fantastic for both the natural system and the creatures they support.

In particular, waterlogged meadows have shown the positive effects of wild horse grazing very quickly. “When the spring bird migration began, we saw some hundreds of gulls every day in horse grazing areas, along with flocks of up to dozens of various species of waders. Additionally, black and white storks, herons and even common cranes strolled in their graceful manner at the site. In the end, when the grass became even taller, the overwhelming majority of birds joined the wild horses in the pasture. Some of the rare waders even started nesting there,” explains Brenek Michalek from the Czech branch of BirdLife International.

Natural grazing differs from traditional livestock grazing. Unlike conventional breeds of domestic animals, wild horses from Exmoor are also happy to feed on rough and poorly digestible grasses, or even last year’s old grass in winter, without jeopardising their health. The second difference is in the density of animals per hectare. With wild herbivores, the number is much smaller than with domestic livestock grazing areas. As a result, pastures with native hoofed mammals are much more complex and diverse, because in addition to trampled and intensely grazed areas where birds like to search for food, there are also sufficient less-grazed places or spots that are not grazed at all, which is where the birds find safe hideaways for nesting.

During the summer, another positive effect of natural grazing has been shown in the reserve with sandy soils on the outskirts of Hradec Kralove: increased frequency of diurnal butterflies, including rare blue butterfly species. “It is exactly the group of aggressive grass species which wild horses from Exmoor prefer to feed on. In doing so, they literally extract flowering herbs they deliberately avoid out of dense, tall-grass vegetation. As a result, pastures are not overgrown by aggressive species, and butterflies – as well as many other pollinators, including bees, bumble bees and hoverflies – have constant access to flowering meadows full of food,” says Josef Rusak, head of the east Bohemian office of the Agency for Nature Conservation and Landscape Protection of the Czech Republic.

In the Josefovske louky Bird Park, the result was that the dusky large blue, a rare butterfly species, was found directly in the grazing area, even though zoologists did not find any at the same site a year before.

“We are more than happy that our colleagues are excited about the results of the wild horse grazing project and send one excellent report after another. This way wild horses help reverse the negative trend in the development of the European landscape at more locations, while we hear from all sides how butterflies, frogs, lizards and birds are vanishing. We are all the more pleased about the fact that the efforts we have made so far to return large hoofed mammals to the natural systems of Central Europe have not been in vain,” concludes Dalibor Dostal, director of the conservation organization European Wildlife.

In 2015, this NGO set up its first reserve for large herbivores at the former military training area of Milovice near Prague, which became the first place in the world where three key species of large hoofed mammals – wild horses, European bison and aurochs – are found at one reserve.

Photo: Alice Janeckova

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