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Palesgate Meadow

Palesgate Meadow is adjacent to the Ghyll woodland and was acquired by Crowborough Town Council in 2012.

Palesgate Meadow is a very rare 'Unimproved Grassland' habitat. An Unimproved Grassland is land where there has not been any significant degree of agricultural intensification and as a result supports a huge variety of plants, insects and other wildlife.

Meadows like this have undergone a dramatic decline in the UK. Since 1930 we have lost 97% of our meadows and we now have less than 15,000 ha left in the UK. That is equivalent to an area one third of the size of the New Forest. 

Being mostly small parcels of land it is very vulnerable to development, over grazing by livestock and application of fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides.

This herb-rich grassland is of a very high nature conservation value as it supports a huge variety of plants which in turn attracts a much wider variety of wildlife than is found in other types of grassland.

The grassland is not only ecologically important for its wildflowers and grasses but also because it supports a variety of invertebrates such as bumblebees and butterflies which thrive on the pollen and nectar provided by the combination of fine-leaved grasses and wildflowers.

Studies undertaken as part of Crowborough Conservations’ Threatened Species Project quickly established just how important the meadow was for wildlife. Small mammals such as voles, mice and shrews are abundant and provide a food source for birds of prey, such as kestrels and owls.

The meadow is of particular importance for reptiles. Slow worms, Common lizards, Grass snakes and Adders are all present in the meadow and the adjacent Ghyll woodland. All reptiles are legally protected as their numbers are declining across the UK.

Sympathetic management of the grassland is critical in maintaining the remaining 3% of the UK’s meadows and the most sustainable way of doing this is by conservation grazing to control of the invasive species that encroach onto the grassland.

Crowborough Conservation has been working closely with the Town Council, the High Weald AONB Unit and the Sussex Pony Grazing Conservation Trust.

The High Weald Units’ Community Landscape Fund paid for stock fencing which the Town Council staff installed, so Exmoor ponies could graze the meadow. The Sussex Pony Grazing Conservation Trust owns the ponies that will be kept on the meadow for 2 or 3 months of the year.

Exmoor ponies are the oldest of the native breeds of British ponies and are thought to be the closest descendant of the ponies that inhabited Britain 100,000 years ago – long before the arrival of man. They have hardly changed since prehistoric times when they lived alongside mammoths and saber-toothed tigers. In fact until fairly recently Exmoor ponies were a rare breed themselves. At the end of the Second World War there were only 50 registered Exmoor ponies, at the time making them rarer than the Giant Panda.

The Exmoor’s are adapted to surviving hostile weather .They are able to graze out all year round without supplementary feeding and will tackle gorse, brambles and even bracken. Ponies also trample the bracken which helps to suppress its spread across the meadow.

Exmoor ponies are wild animals so whilst the public are encouraged to visit the meadow it is important that they are not offered any food. Dogs must be kept under close control.

In 2014 The Town Council Environment Committee approved conservation grazing on Palesgate Meadow and The High Weald Joint Advisory Committee awarded a £2000 grant from its Community Landscape Fund to support the project, including constructing a fenced off area where the ponies could graze safely.  Exmoor ponies were brought to Crowborough by the Sussex Pony Grazing Conservation Trust, who also arranged for them to graze in other parts of the High Weald Area of Natural Beauty, including Broadwater Warren. 


The ponies were released on Monday 2nd June 2014 and stayed for the summer of 2014.

It is planned to release the ponies again in 2015, probably in late August.

Before the ponies can be released in 2015 it is necessary to remove ragwort form the grazing area. On 24th June a group of volunteers provided support to the Town's Ranger, Dan Colbourne, to pull as much ragwort as possible and the picture below shows the combined efforts of the small team of volunteers.


Why is it necessary to remove ragwort?

Ragwort is the common name for one of our most conspicuous grassland weeds. Unfortunately it is highly poisonous to livestock; cattle and horses, along with pigs and chickens are highly sensitive whilst sheep, goats and deer are more tolerant. There is no specific treatment. Consequently ragwort needs to be controlled to prevent horses being poisoned.

The poisonous substances in ragwort are pyrrolizidine alkaloids compounds which cause cirrhosis of the liver [alkaloids are bitter-tasting nitrogen compounds and are found in approximately 20% of plants; examples are opium, cocaine, quinine, atropine and caffeine]. When Ragwort is eaten it is changed by the intestines and then broken down by the liver, the breakdown products formed in the liver are toxic to liver cells and if sufficient ragwort is consumed the cumulative effects result in death of the animal.

Poisoning may be acute due to the rapid intake of a large quantity, and death can occur within a few days. More commonly the effects are chronic and cumulative. In chronic cases animals often seem healthy for weeks and it can be months after eating ragwort before the symptoms appear.

In horses, lethargy and yawning are characteristic symptoms, giving rise to the name ‘sleepy staggers’. Blindness is frequently apparent and the animal may walk in circles, or in a straight line for long distances.

Common ragwort accounts for over 90% of complaints about injurious weeds and is one of the five weeds specified in the Weeds Act 1959: