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Dartmoor Ponies: is this the end?

Feeling a little horse (courtesy: Malcolm Snelgrove/DPHT)

Charity concerned at future for iconic horses

Dartmoor ponies could be under threat unless more funding to help them is found, according to a leading charity.

The Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust (DPHT) wants to protect Dartmoor ponies in their natural, native environment by undertaking conservation projects on 450 hectares it manages at Bellever. It's in an area very popular with visitors, where a herd of 26 ponies play a crucial role in habitat maintenance and management simply by grazing.

The charity is now experiencing financial difficulties because during the covid pandemic it can't carry out its usual activities that ensure a steady income stream.

Its equine assisted-learning programme at Parke, Bovey Tracey, using Dartmoor ponies, normally provides educational opportunities for children with special needs, while Ponies Inspiring People is a programme for individuals, families and community groups. Both came to a halt at the start of the pandemic last year. Its free guided walks for groups at Bellever have also stopped for now.

Dru Butterfield, who co-founded the charity 15 years ago, said: “We’re driven by conservation and education, but without help at this time we won’t be able to protect the future of Dartmoor ponies and we won’t be able to continue our conservation work at Bellever where we aim to inspire people to connect with Dartmoor’s wildlife, landscape and heritage.”

The charity is urging visitors to Dartmoor and those who love its native ponies to lend their support by making a donation or buying its new Gorse membership package which gives members a free walk and talk, e-newsletters, a half day photography workshop with international photographer Malcolm Snelgrove, and an invitation to the annual meet the pony keepers’ day for £75.

Mrs Butterfield said: “After lockdown we welcome people back to Bellever so that they can enjoy the benefits of wellbeing and being outdoors. The Dartmoor pony is the keystone species both in terms of the work we carry out here and in helping to encourage visitors to enjoy the great outdoors. The pony is recognised for its conservation benefits which have a cascade effect.

“Without the trampling and the nibbling, you wouldn’t get the dung that produces the dung beetle and other insects that attract so many rare bird species to the site. But ultimately, aside from giving the Dartmoor pony a viable role for conservation, we really don’t want to lose the iconic Dartmoors out on Dartmoor.

"I am worried for their future and it’s vital that people understand that unless we can continue protecting and promoting, the day of the true native ponies on Dartmoor could be numbered.”

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