After Covid restrictions obliterated normal income streams for the Exmoor Pony Project, it is the Exmoor ponies themselves who have galloped to the rescue – with their compost. Exmoor National Park Authority has now awarded a Partnership Fund Grant to help Exmoor Compost evolve a production process.
Exmoor Pony Project founders Nick and Dawn Westcott, who farm on the National Trust Holnicote Estate in Porlock Vale, saw their 2020 plans for pony workshops, talks, events and activities dashed with the lockdown in March and Dawn found herself falling through the gaps with the Government’s Covid support.
“As a self-employed author channelling income to run the Exmoor Pony Project, which is a conservation project rather than a business, I didn’t meet the ‘criteria’ for Central Government grant support and found myself one of the millions of ‘ExcludedUK’. We have over 30 Exmoor ponies, including orphans, from various moorland herds in our direct care and their management must be maintained – yet the overheads continue regardless. When income streams disappear just like that, those costs put immense much pressure on the farm.”
Of course, caring for a large herd of Exmoor ponies also produces a large amount of manure, which the Westcotts have discovered has slowly matured into excellent compost.
“Earlier this year, when I established our kitchen garden, Nick suggested I try some of the pony compost. It was superb stuff and, in June, after hearing there was a shortage of good compost in the area, we offered some bags of Exmoor Pony Multi-Purpose Compost as a fundraiser for the pony project, hoping local gardeners would give it a try. We soon found ourselves delivering bags across the area, from North Devon to the Quantock Hills. We’ve had great feedback from gardeners and, importantly, significant repeat orders already.”
The Westcotts are evolving a preparation and screening process that is resulting in a dark, friable, easy to handle compost that keen gardeners describe as ‘black gold’. Anne Lawton from Minehead said, “It’s the most fabulous black crumbly compost ever. Highly recommended and it’s supporting Exmoor ponies, who are the producers of this wonderful stuff.”
Since June, over 1,000 bags of the compost have been sold and the Westcotts are hopeful that their new Exmoor Compost venture will develop to help maintain the Exmoor Pony Project for the long term.
“It’s rather lovely that the ponies themselves are providing the means to contribute to their own care. This year is all about survival and these ponies are certainly survivors – many of them would not be here without this project. They’re already benefiting from the compost sales and we’ve been able to buy a paddock sweeper to keep their grazing areas clean – as well as to more efficiently collect manure for future compost.”
While the couple have sourced and even built some of the equipment and machinery needed to process the compost, some big items remain to be purchased.
“We’re very fortunate that the Exmoor National Park Authority is awarding Exmoor Compost a £2,500 grant from the Partnership Fund to help us acquire some vital equipment over the next few months. This includes a bag sealer and compost turner. At the moment we’re still bagging, writing out and tying the bags by hand. The grant is a great help at a critical time.
“We’re excited to be farming in this way to help safeguard the endangered Exmoor pony breed and also provide an important, sustainable local resource for gardeners and growers across the area. It’s good to be doing our bit for the environment and we appreciate everyone who is helping us to turn a Covid nightmare into something positive.”
Dan James, Sustainable Economy Manager at Exmoor National Park Authority, said, “We are pleased to be able to support this innovative idea to not only support the work of the Exmoor Pony Project but also to recognise the enterprising nature of many organisations across Exmoor. We initially gave a grant to the project from our Covid-19 Response Fund and have now awarded this Partnership Fund grant in a bid to sustain the Exmoor Pony Project into the longer term. Our Partnership Fund this year is prioritising applications from not-for-profit groups for project ideas that can help to look after the National Park, engage people with its special qualities and help with the area’s recovery from the impacts of Covid-19. We wish the Exmoor Pony Project and Exmoor Compost scheme well in the future.”
More information can be found at www.WildPonyWhispering.co.uk.