One-ton horses help to improve woodland


Published Friday 20 December 2013

Woodland managers in the New Forest have been going back in time, taking the reins of one-ton horses to clear timber from wooded sites.

Traditional horse logging techniques are being taught to local people in a bid to reduce the high level of unmanaged private woodland in the National Park, which currently stands at over 40 per cent.

13 people learnt how to handle Percheron draft horses at a recent event at Roydon Woods, near Brockenhurst, led by Robert Sampson of Harbridge Working Percherons - a New Forest company that has been breeding and working these horses since 1951.

Dr Caroline Wilkins attended the event and said: ‘I thoroughly enjoyed the day with the heavy horses and I was surprised how easy and practical woodland management is with horses.

‘It was clear that whilst the horses were big, heavy horses their footprint through the forest was much smaller than that of a mechanical equivalent, making it much better for the woodland environment.

‘It was great fun and a privilege to do some woodland work with such impressive horses.’

The event was run by the New Forest Land Advice Service and supported by the New Forest National Park Authority.

Woodland management is particularly important in the New Forest as its woods are home to a wide range of wildlife and contain the highest population of ancient and veteran trees in western Europe.

If woods are left unmanaged:

  • the quality of the habitat declines
  • fewer wildlife species are found
  • pests and disease outbreaks increase
  • invasive plants such as rhododendron and Japanese knotweed spread
  • the quality of the timber is poor.

Horses can play a crucial role in managing sites which are wet, steep or impossible to reach with modern machinery.

Percheron horses can remove around eight to 10 tonnes of timber from a site in a day – more than the weight of a double decker bus. They cause less damage to the ground, are cost effective and often mean footpaths can remain open while work is taking place.

Georgianna Watson, New Forest Land Advice Service Advisor, said: ‘Trainees had the exciting and rare opportunity to take the reins of these incredible horses and learn how they can be used to remove timber from sites that are hard to access.  

‘It is crucial that we teach woodland management skills to anybody who owns or manages woodland, in order to reduce the large proportion of unmanaged woodland in the New Forest and beyond.’

The New Forest Land Advice Service is funded by the New Forest National Park Authority, Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, Natural England and the Verderers.

Anybody interested in future training events should register their interest via email to

View more images of the event at and see videos of the horses in action at


Percheron Facts

  • The Percheron is a breed of draft horse originating from Perche, a former province of northern France
  • The breed was used extensively in Europe during World War One, with some horses shipped from the United States to France to help in the fighting
  • Percherons began to be bred in Great Britain in 1918
  • In the UK 66 inches is the shortest acceptable height for stallions, while weights range from around 910 to 1,000 kg.

Notes to photo editor:

A Percheron draft horse removes timber from a coppice in Roydon Woods, Brockenhurst.

Videos of the horses removing timber from the coppice during the event are available at

An album of high quality images of Percheron horses and trainees is available on request.

Notes to editor:

About the New Forest Land Advice Service

The New Forest Land Advice Service is available to landowners and occupiers who would like advice and support on a wide range of issues relating to land management. The advisors operate across the National Park, the Avon Valley and the coastal plain. Since the service started in 2010 it has advised more than 300 businesses.

The service offers:

  • A free and independent service for the land managing community in and around the New Forest and Avon Valley
  • Support for landowners, farmers, New Forest Commoners, equine owners, graziers and community groups
  • Advice to anyone who owns or manages a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC) in the area
  • A small grant scheme which can support capital works which benefit the landscape, biodiversity and cultural heritage of the area.

To find out more about the New Forest Land Advice Service, or arrange a visit, please call 01590 646696 or email

About the New Forest National Park Authority

Protect - Enjoy - Prosper

The New Forest National Park Authority’s statutory purposes are to:

  • Conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the Park - Protect
  • Promote opportunities for understanding and enjoyment of its special qualities – Enjoy.

We also have a duty to:

  • Seek to foster the social and economic well-being of local communities within the Park – Prosper.

The New Forest National Park was designated in March 2005. Its unique landscape has been shaped over the centuries by grazing ponies, cattle and pigs which roam free. Majestic woodlands, rare heathland and a spectacular coastline provide fabulous opportunities for quiet recreation, enjoyment and discovery.

Visit to find out more

Media Contact:
Matt Stroud, Communications Assistant, New Forest National Park Authority
Tel: 01590 646650

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