The independent London newspaper

Shire horses help repair Hampstead Heath ground

'It's easier than using a tractor'

01 March, 2018 — By Dan Carrier

MEET Heath and Nobby – two shire horses weighing in at more than a ton each, who came to the rescue on Hampstead Heath at the weekend to help put right the damage done to land following the English National Cross Country Championships.

The pair were used by Heath managers the City of London, after a campaign by walkers John and Sarah Carrier to help repair muddy paths caused by thousands of running competing in the athletics event on Saturday.

The horses are looked after by Tom Nixon, of shire horse firm Operation Centaur. Usually based in Richmond Park and Hampton Court Palace, they spent Sunday harrowing over tracks to help the ground recover. Mr Nixon, who has worked with the animals for more than 40 years, told the New Journal that using shire horses was a low-impact way of helping grass land recover.

He added: “The ground conditions were very wet and scarred from all the traffic on it. We harrowed the most damaged bits of the ground. It is much easier than using a tractor, which would just add to the damage if you were to drive over the land. Horses are low impact and do not create any new ruts or create channels that can cause flooding.”

The horses are hired out to help land managers with areas such as tree removal and ground works, where tractors are not suitable.

Mr Nixon said: “We do a lot of conservation work, and private contracts for grass cutting, ploughing, timber extraction and carriage rides. We also run training schemes for people to work with shire horses.”

The horses come from a long line that show they are perfect for low-impact land work. But with just 800 breeding mares left in the world, the aim is not just to have them as a heritage animals but to show how useful they are for specialist works – as they proved on the Heath.

Mr Nixon said: “It is a dying breed. They are endangered, and the skills are also dying out. But they still have a role to play.”

Heath events manager Paul Maskell said the day was a success. He added: “It was absolutely fantastic to see them working on the hill.” And the campaign to use the horses on the Heath had the backing of Men Behaving Badly actor Martin Clunes, who is a shire horse enthusiast. He said: “Congratulations. Lucky old Hampstead Heath.”

The horses are set to return to the Heath in the summer, at the City of London’s annual Give It A Go festival in July.

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