Nature conservation charity RSPB Northern Ireland has been using konik ponies to give nature a home in Fermanagh!
Over the winter months, four konik ponies from the charity's Portmore Lough nature reserve near Moira have been grazing on Hare Island in Lower Lough Erne.
RSPB NI's Lower Lough Erne Islands reserve is made up of 43 islands and one mainland site totalling almost 200 hectares of wet grassland habitats. Grazing is essential in managing the land for the benefit of the breeding curlews, lapwings, redshanks, dunlins and snipe that make their homes here. Populations of these species in NI have declined by almost 90% since the mid 1980s, making the Lough Erne basin one of the last remaining strongholds.
Livestock grazing the islands in the summer months are predominantly beef cattle, including a resident herd of Highland cattle with some sheep grazing too. Irish cob ponies and horses have been used to assist in creating ideal conditions for breeding waders over the winter months after cattle come off. They open up under grazed areas and consume soft rush and other plant species that are less palatable to cattle.
Koniks are a breed of pony that originate from Poland, descended from the original but now extinct wild horses of Europe known as Tarpan. They grow an insulating coat for winter and are resistant to severe weather conditions. They are also are adapted to foraging in the wild, can survive on a limited amount of food and have an extremely resilient immune system. RSPB NI also has a staff member devoted to livestock management to ensure they keep fit and well.
The koniks will stay on Hare Island until at least the end of February to ensure it's in the best possible condition for the birds returning to breed in March.
RSPB NI Fermanagh warden Amy Burns commented: "Koniks are such a gentle breed and easy to work with - I love going out and checking on the progress they're making.
"Having them on the islands over the winter months means we can have the habitat in the best possible condition for birds returning in the spring."