Rare Horse Breed Proves Crucial To England’s Wetlands

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A rare breed of horse once at the centre of Nazi experiments has been recognized as a key part of plans to restore the  delicate wetlands of England.

It is now acknowledged that the grazing habits of the rare Konik breed – the name meaning small horse in Polish – play a crucial part in helping to make wetlands more habitable for other species.

The project to restore them to Kentish wetlands is a joint venture between the Wildwood Trust, near Canterbury, English Nature and Kent Wildlife Trust.

It’s one of the oldest animals known to man. Wild horses once roamed all over Europe and England.  Now the wild Konik horse is once again grazing on the English lowlands.

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They are a highly unusual breed, descended directly from the Tarpan, the wild European forest horse hunted to extinction in Britain in Neolithic times.

Tarpan survived in central Europe until the late 1800s when the last were captured in the primeval forest of Bialoweiza, Poland, and taken to zoos. The last died in 1910.

In the early 20th century, Polish scientists noticed Tarpan-coloured foals – mouse grey overall with zebra stripes on their legs and dark manes and tails – were still being born to domestic mares in herds where Tarpan had formerly ranged.

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It was also noticed that they turned whiter over winter – another Tarpan trait.They selected these and back-bred them successfully over generations to recreate the extinct forest horse.

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Between the two world wars, German zoo directors were supported by senior Nazi party officials such as Herman Goering in their effort to recreate these primeval horses. The Tarpan featured heavily in German folklore.

After the Nazi invasion of Poland, whole herds where stolen and transported back to Germany.

Polish scientists looking after wild horse herds managed to protect some, and after the war the protected herds were allowed to repopulate the national parks of Poland under Soviet occupation.

When the Iron Curtain fell, conservationists were at last able to transport the wild horses to national parks across Europe.  

Wildwood Trust pioneered the re-introduction of these horses to Britain in 2002. It brought the first ever of their breed to arrive in southern England and these horses and their offspring have been helping to restore some of the most precious national nature reserves in the UK.

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Since this time, conservation grazing projects throughout Europe have used the Konik horses for wetland grazing projects.

The former habitat of Tarpan was marshy woodland where their grazing activities help create ideal living conditions for a host of associated wildlife such as rare geese, spoonbills, bitterns and corncrakes.

At present, most of the trust’s herd are grazing at nature reserves around the county.

Wildwood Trust runs WoodlandDiscoveryPark, a visitor attraction which forms part of their strategy to save native and once-native wildlife from extinction.

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Wildwood includes a forest enclosure where Konik horses retired from the trust’s main herds can spend their days, providing the many visitors with a good look at the remarkable breed.

 Link:  News Release

Photos: Les Willis

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12 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Interesting article, I knew about Tarpans, but I did not know their story.. Great photos, too.

  2. Hi …
    Was fascinating reading for me, as well. Thanks for visiting.

  3. i have 3 konicks , they are so lovely 2 fillys that we want to bred from and would like to find a stalion , can anyone help?
    catherine

  4. I knew about Tarpans but i never knew their whole background! they are such beautiful horses!!!!

  5. I used to ride at a stable in a small town in Poland that bread Koniki Polskie. We used them for english riding, vaulting and drivning. Don’t be fooled by their size – they have great personalities. The stable closed over 10 years ago due to lack of funding – what a shame. ;( I am happy to learn that Koniki will be used to restore wetlands in England.

  6. that is some great information, i knew of them, i just didnt know thier story. someone should make a group, to fund it again!! :)

  7. awwwwwwwwwwww they r so cute!!!!!!!!!!!!! :)

  8. That is so cool. I didn’t know anything about them
    I have an anglo-arab but he races with me.
    KONIKS are beutiful horses. In slovak it mean small horse.

  9. They are gorgeous! Simply beautiful! I love the top picture! Amazing animals.

  10. i do horse riding my self and i would love to meet these horse face to face.they have also inspired me to help out with nature,e.g like animal rescue’s to help wild animals back into nature reserves that are unable to go back into a own habbitats.

  11. I found the information about the Konik horses very intersting. I cannot help but wonder if there are any available in the United States? If so, where??? I am interested in learning what they are used for and if any have been trained.

    Marge

  12. I encountered the Koniks at Wicken Fen Cambridgeshire today. I saw them in the distance whilst eating my lunch. Before I had finished it they were surrounding me and coming very close. Some came up close and were nibbling my hair and the tassles on my hat. They were so gentle, friendly with lovely soft coats. One of the best animal encounters I have ever had.


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