Page last updated at 10:03 GMT, Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Wild foal braves winter weather

Konik horse and foal at Stodmarsh
The Konik horses help produce ideal living conditions for rare species

A herd of wild horses introduced to help conserve a nature reserve in Kent has produced its first foal of the year, despite the harsh winter.

Konik horses were brought to Stodmarsh in Canterbury in 2002 to graze the site to maintain habitats for wildlife.

The breed is descended from the extinct Tarpan horse which roamed Britain in prehistoric times.

A spokesperson for Wildwood, which manages the site, said the foal's arrival was "incredibly early".

Martin Nichols, Wildwood spokesperson, said: "The foals are normally born in April or May time.

"The first foal of the year is always a cause for celebration and bodes well for the rest of the year."

Rare species

Stodmarsh national nature reserve, which is in the Stour valley and a five-minute walk from Canterbury's shopping centre, has marshland, meadows, wet woodlands, reedbeds, lakes and ditches.

The Konik horses can be used in conservation grazing schemes to preserve habitats which are important for rare plants, animals and birds.

Their grazing can produce ideal living conditions for rare species such as bitterns and corncrakes.

The herd at Stodmarsh was introduced by a partnership between Natural England and the Wildwood Trust, as part of a scheme pioneered by the trust to bring Konik horses, which originated in Poland, to Britain.

Wildwood Trust chief executive Peter Smith said: "The birth of this foal is great news, and is part of the plan for developing conservation grazing schemes to restore natural ecological processes to help Britain, and in this case Stodmarsh, teem with wildlife again."

A number of rare species of plant, invertebrates and birds have been spotted at Stodmarsh including the corn bunting, the shining ram's horn snail and the carnivorous plant greater bladderwort.

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