SOME of the North-East's most committed conservation workers are returning home for a winter break.

Durham Wildlife Trust’s Exmoor ponies have begun to return to the organisation’s headquarters at Rainton Meadows, near Houghton le Spring, on Wearside, to spend the winter, having done an excellent conservation job in recent months.

DWT brought in the ponies to graze on a number of its nature reserves because their method of grazing is good for wildlife habitats.

Their ability to graze on encroaching rank grasses and tendency to browse means that they naturally improve the species diversity of the sites they inhabit.

One of the biggest summer tasks for volunteer teams is the cutting and raking of wildflower meadows but a conservation grazing programme meant the ponies did the work, enabling volunteers to focus on other essential conservation tasks.

Durham Wildlife Trust identified eight reserves on which the ponies could graze, including sites throughout Gateshead and County Durham and at the Trust’s two visitor centres, Low Barns near Witton-le-wear and Rainton Meadows.

Now, the ponies are returning to Rainton Meadows for the winter.

Mark Dinning, from the Trust, said: “The past few months have seen the ponies based across our nature reserves, keeping grasslands in good condition. They have done a terrific job.”