London’s last working shire horses are reviving the centuries-old tradition of cutting rare hay meadows without heavy machinery to encourage the return of wild flowers.
There are some things draft horses – or “heavy horses,” as they’re known in England – can do better than any tractor, and one of those is protecting the ecosystem that they’re working:
“Despite weighing up to a tonne, the heavy horses are still lighter than tractors and compact the soil less as they plod the fields, which helps plants and wildlife to flourish…
“The National Trust said it decided to return to the traditional method of managing the land because of its many benefits for nature. The horses are a throwback to a bygone era of farming, before the invention of the internal combustion engine. Their remarkable stamina also mean they can work well into their 20s and can mow an average of 10 acres of grass in one day.”
And of course, the “exhaust” they produce fertilizes the land, rather than polluting the air; and unlike tractors, they can breed their own replacements!
Heavy horses back at work in London, even if it is only on one select site… Perhaps Jethro Tull (the band, not the 18th-century agriculturalist) was prophetic:
In these dark towns folk lie sleeping
As the heavy horses thunder by,
To wake the dying city
With the living horseman’s cry.
At once the old hands quicken,
Bring pick and wisp and curry comb:
Thrill to the sound of all
The heavy horses coming home…
— Jethro Tull, “Heavy Horses“