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Traditional ‘horse power’ managing precious New Forest woodlands

Traditional ‘horse power’ managing precious New Forest woodlands


Once it was common place to see working horses throughout the New Forest.

Now these old traditions are making a comeback and reclaiming their place in modern forestry management.

Around 40% of privately-owned woodland in the New Forest is currently unmanaged which is why the New Forest Land Advice Service helps landowners to care for the woodlands so they’re better for wildlife and people and are more economically viable.

Gemma Stride, Project Co-ordinator for the Working Woodlands Project said: ‘Many of these small private woodlands in the Forest are not accessible to the big heavy machinery as they don’t have pathways, known as “rides”, through the trees that would sustain the weight and width the equipment requires. These heavy vehicles can damage the delicate structure and biodiversity of the Forest floor which thrives in these small areas.

‘So we’ve brought in a local horse logger Toby Hoad to take out the felled timber from a small wood in Pilley. It is amazing to watch these beautiful horses at work with the huge benefit of them having minimal impact on the forest floor. This is of particular significance when restoring an ancient woodland site.’

Toby, owner of Dorset Horse Logging, says his two Comtois horses, Celine and Fleur, love to work the Forest. He mainly uses voice commands to guide and direct the horses and it has taken over three years to trust, train and gain a relationship with them.

Toby said: ‘The woodland we are working in was extremely wet when we visited in May and even after the hot and dry summer it is still boggy in places. The horses are very nimble managing to weave in-between the trees only scarifying the woodland floor. They are also great to use for selective felling and thinning and come into their own when working on a slope.

‘I also use them for bracken rolling which is done around mid to late summer. The horses pull a special roller which bends and partially breaks the bracken fronds which weakens the plant as it attempts to regrow, but it needs to be repeated for a few years to minimise regrowth.’

Landowner Lynne Truell said: ‘It was wonderful to have Toby and his horses executing a critical part of the holistic woodland management plan created by the Working Woodlands Project. ’

To watch the horses in their full glory and hear more about the benefits of horse logging watch the video on the New Forest National Park Authority’s YouTube channel.

The Working Woodlands project is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of the Our Past, Our Future landscape partnership scheme. It involves 21 projects which will better equip the New Forest to thrive through change and modern-day pressures.


Pic caption: Toby Hoad, of Dorset Horse Logging, helping to revive a woodland at Pilley in the New Forest with one of his Comtois horses, Celine.


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