COMMONERS love to tell a story. The best are often recounts of elusive woodland dwelling ponies.

Wild mares with knotted manes and long tails dragging the floor and an alert wild look in their eye.

Ponies that, in days gone by, remained uncaught for many years and who when caught would often have two or three young ponies running with them.

Catching one of these ponies would have written the colthunter in to forest history. One such mare was known as the Ghost mare who ran in Oakley. Sadly, commoners and their ponies are changing.

Wild ponies, that keep to themselves and graze deep in the woods are dying out and the art of the colt hunter is dying with them. Where once more than a hundred stallions ran the Forest year round, meaning most mares met the stallion each year, now just 15 run out for six weeks.

It is good on many levels but does not help the woodland dwellers. There are ponies which graze the heaths and lawns, ponies which prefer the woodland and ponies which love the high gorse grounds.

The woodland dweller is the toughest of them all, eeking out a living in the hardest of places. Browsing the holly and woody shrubs. If you try to move a pony from a lusher area to a woods they ‘melt’, rapidly losing weight as it simply doesn’t know what to eat.

For those of us lucky enough to live in the Forest comes the responsibility to ‘fence against’ forest stock. Our Forest boundary is double fenced.

We always intended to plant a hedge but it was one of those jobs that never quite got finished. Instead it has become our very own re-wilding project.

Nature has taken control and we now have a fabulous thick hedge of gorse, bramble, willow, birch and thorn. In hindsight far better than importing trees from nurseries and with them the risk of tree diseases.

The fence was properly tested this week as the stallion flirted with our very fruity riding mare! Whilst driving through our local village I was disappointed to see a lovely old fence being replaced with treated softwood fencing stakes. These don’t last and one wonders what impact the treatment has long term.

We only use chestnut and oak for fencing. The chestnut comes from sustainable coppiced woodlands which have over centuries provided wonderful biodiversity and income for local woodsmen.

Sadly, the Forest is no longer self sufficient in fencing materials. Once upon a time all of the wood for fencing was grown and managed here in the Forest.

Has the time come to restore some of our chestnut coppices? Many species thrive in coppiced woodlands. We all need to think twice about the way we live our lives to ensure we are being as sustainable as possible.

It has been a busy month for us. Moving the cattle from their winter quarters to the fields and the Forest and beginning to make the silage to feed them next winter, an ever revolving cycle.

Our local stallion has done a good job and we have two lovely filly foals. It has been brilliant to see so many local businesses and people joining the Save Our Foals campaign and reminding everyone to slow down as they cross the Forest.

The Nightjar has returned and for a few short weeks sings with the cuckoo each night. The orchids carpet the heath alongside the bog where the Bog Asphodel is emerging.

Commoning Family

Lyndsey Stride