Eleven Exmoor ponies from Great Britain should soon be grazing the meadows of the national park Podyjí in South Moravia. The horses will be shipped to the country in April as part of the Military Life for Nature project, which aims to protect and maintain valuable plants and species at former military areas across the Czech Republic.
Exmoor ponies, a horse breed native to the British Isles, are probably the closes relatives of the extinct wild horse, which used to graze the steppes along the Dyje River some 2,000 years ago. Two herds of Exmoor ponies have already been successfully re-introduced at another location in the Czech Republic, a former military base in Milovice, just 30 kilometres northeast of Prague. I asked Miloslav Jirků of the Czech Academy of Sciences why they decided to carry on with the project:
“The main reason behind introducing Exmoor Ponies is the maintenance or management of very precious habitats, namely meadows and steppes ecosystems. The pilot project in Milovice that involves natural grazing of large herbivorous animals proved to be very successful and that is why we decided to extend it.”
The project, initiated by the organisation Česká Krajina or Czech Landscape along with the Czech Academy of Sciences aims to gradually introduce the horses into the Czech landscape and to improve biodiversity among local plants by letting the horses graze on the aggressive and evasive grasses.
Since their introduction two years ago, the Exmoor ponies, turned to be very effective in this respect. Along with a group of European bison, which were also released in the area, they managed to turn the former military base into a patch of wilderness.
Just like Milovice, Miloslav Jirků says the national park in Podyjí presents a very valuable landscape with a large number of endangered and rare animals and plants:
“The area of South Moravia in general is very interesting, because it is the most northerly part of the Pannonian steppe, which differs in its fauna and flora from the rest of Europe.
“The two locations are very important in terms of having very diverse meadow communities. There are plenty of plants such as orchids, which occur here in many species, there is high occurrence of butterfly species.
“There are also very interesting species of reptiles which are very rare in Europe, such as the green lizard or Aesculapian snake and many others.”
Two groups of six horses are set to arrive in the Podyjí national park in April to maintain an area of approximately 70 hectares.
Meanwhile, Czech scientists and conservationists are already considering other locations in the Czech Republic, which would be suitable for the reintroduction of the wild horse.