A group of Shetland ponies has been given grazing rights at Goonhilly Satellite Earth Station in an environmental experiment by BT and English Nature.

For the first time in the 43-year history of the station, ponies are being used to control some of the luxuriant heathland vegetation at the 160-acre site.

Roly Haslam, a BT engineer at Goonhilly who has played a leading role in the introduction of the ponies, said: "We have arranged with English Nature for four ponies to be allowed to graze on the site for a trial period of up to eight weeks so that the vegetation can be controlled naturally, rather than by mechanical means.

"So far they've done a great job. They are quite selective in what they eat and, ideally for the heathland environment, they favour the vegetation which is most in need of being controlled."

The station and the surrounding Goonhilly area are home to some of the rarest plants in the UK, including the Cornish heath and fragrant orchid. The area is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and is also part of the Lizard National Nature Reserve.

A management committee comprising representatives of BT, English Nature and English Heritage meets regularly to ensure that the heathland environment is maintained to the highest standards.