Ponies could be the key to protecting Dartmoor and prevent decline in heathland, charity claims

The trust says ponies can help prevent any further decline in what is a globally important habitat.

Ponies born and bred on Dartmoor can play a crucial role in preventing the decline of the healthland, a charity has said. 

The Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust is launching a campaign to highlight the grazing benefits of ponies native to Dartmoor in an attempt to restore the overall health of the moor. 

It is hoping its Mouths on the Moor campaign will help prevent the loss of precious heathland plants, increase biodiversity and reduce the risk of wildfires. 

Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust said action needed to be taken now to stop a further decline on Dartmoor's precious environment. 

Ponies have grazed the top of Molina grass down.

According to research, precious healthland plants like heather and bilberry have been lost on around 40% of the moor. 

Instead, they've been overtaken by vast expanses of Molinia grass, large stands of western and European gorse and bracken.

It is hoped encouraging ponies to graze on the land would see them eat and reduce the purple moor grass and the gorse as well as trampling the bracken - encouraging more plants to grow. 

Native ponies are a traditional sight on the moor, but the numbers are declining. There were 30,000 in the 1950s, now there are only around 1,000

Native ponies are a traditional sight on the moor, but their numbers are declining.

Chief Executive Debbie Leach said: “The moor is in crisis. We've heard about the global nature emergency that's going on, but it's happening here on Dartmoor, on our doorstep.

"And we need to take action now to do something about it. And to do that, we need to get more grazing animals on the moor to keep the plant species in balance.”

The trust has worked with academics from Plymouth University to work on projects to attract ponies into areas of Molinia Grass.

Reduced grazing has led to a decline in heathland plants.

Malcolm Snelgrove from the trust said: “What we've done is put posts in the ground, put salt licks on the posts. And what we found is that's attracted the ponies into a specific area.

"Ponies have grazed the top of Molina grass down. They have also trodden around it which has then been enabling native plants to spring through."

Natural England has recognised the need for consultation to address the decline in the quality of the moorland environment with the public stage of the consultation completing on October 16.