Shire horses called in to help improve butterfly sanctuary

Shire horses like these from Operation Centaur will be doing some of the hard work at Hutchinson’s Bank later this month

The butterfly conservation project at Hutchinson’s Bank nature reserve is calling up the cavalry later this month.

Working shire horses – each weighing upwards of 1 ton – will be visiting the reserve near New Addington on Friday September 25, to mow the wildflower meadows and help with hay-making, in what is seen to be a more sustainable and ecologically friendly way of estate maintenance.

Hutchinson’s Bank, which is owned by Croydon Council, is renowned around the world for its ground-breaking ecology programme, having nursed back from near-extinction species of rare butterflies on its chalk downland habitat. As well as plants such as the pyramidal and man orchids, and greater yellow-rattle, more than 100 species of moth and 36 of butterfly have been recorded there.

A brown hairstreak butterfly, an endangered species, pictured at Hutchinson’s Bank this week

The shire horses are being brought in from the Operation Centaur, stabled in Richmond Park, which have been used in a range of grass-cutting and other eco-friendly conservation projects around London’s Royal Parks and stately homes.

Operation Centaur says, “Working horses have an important role in modern conservation management. Innovative horse-drawn machinery can provide solutions to modern conservation challenges, such as helping control bracken in sensitive acid grasslands.

“Habitats benefit from re-introducing traditional land management practices, such as cutting hay in regenerating wildflower meadows.

“Working horses have further benefits in conservation, offering low-noise disturbance to wildlife, lower soil compaction and impact on flora, when compared to heavier machinery. Horses also have a low-carbon footprint.”

The grass-cutting is one of a series of workdays being organised under the Brilliant Butterflies scheme run by the London Wildlife Trust, who manage Hutchinson’s Bank and other nearby wildlife reserves.

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