Conserving Our Grounds: A Special Visit From Working Shire Horses
This month, it was a delight to welcome one of the UK’s last working herd of shire horses from the Royal Parks to our care home in Surrey. With their saddles fitted and trailers attached, they trotted around our surrounding grounds to help clear the ferns.
It was wonderful to be able to give our residents a rare glimpse of a bygone age, which was made possible by the management needs of our previously overgrowing lands. We needed some help to clear up the ferns and foliage - which, of course, required the help of some incredibly cute shire horses in areas where heavy machinery would have been unsuitable.
Within our estate there’s a steep valley, which, for decades, used to be home to coniferous trees; the pine needles of which have left the soil very acidic – leading to continual bracken growth. The trees had been removed to improve the natural habitat on our estate, looking to encourage native wildflowers and scrub.
We’ve never been able to manage the bracken growth in the valley, as the slope is too steep for heavy machinery - but it’s a walk in the park for heavy horses! Marilyn, our owner, saw this article in Country Living a couple of years ago and arranged for them to manage the valley with a four year project to eradicate the bracken.
Ordinarily, the herd helps manage the conservation of the Royal Parks in London - but, with our conservation requirements, we have employed them on a four-year project. And it’s not just our surrounding grounds that benefits from their visits; our residents, too, have been enjoying the rare sights of these heavy horses.
All the staff and residents here at the estate have loved seeing the horses at work; it evokes all sorts of sentimentality and nostalgia. Our residents have been thrilled to see it, with many of whom having recollections of working shires in their younger years. One of our residents, Molly, says she has vivid memories of horses and carts in the roads – not just in the fields. Given that around the time of the first World War, there were a million shire horses in the UK – now, the number is as low as 1,500 worldwide, making them incredibly rare.
The work of the horses has been having a very positive impact, with our estate seeing a massive increase in foxgloves this year. This subsequently attracted lots of insects, which in turn attract small birds and then larger predators, such as birds of prey.
In the meantime, they’re quite happy watching the shire horses at work, and treating them to a carrot or two at the end of a hard day.
In terms of our surrounding grounds and foliage, we have a very specific need at our care home in Surrey - and the shires can do things that heavy machinery simply can’t. Hopefully, their usefulness will continue for a long time – as there really is no sight quite like it.
You can find out more about the shire horse herd via https://www.operationcentaur.com
Alternatively, take a look at how we work together at our care home in Surrey to provide person-centred care at the estate; or, get in touch with a member of our team.