Dartmoor heritage ponies 'invaluable' part of conserving and protecting environment, report says

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The role of heritage Dartmoor ponies as conservation grazers is "invaluable" in maintaining and restoring the health of the moorland environment, according to a report.

An Independent Review Panel has concluded that the way Dartmoor landscape is managed needs to change "radically and urgently" due to the impacts of climate change.

The panel was appointed by the government to look at the future of Dartmoor and the way protected sites are managed.

"Dartmoor's pony population is invaluable for conservation grazing and genetically important," the report said.

It also concluded that pony numbers shouldn’t be linked to cattle numbers so that farmers aren’t forced to choose between the two.

It added: "We have seen industry estimates of a target population of between 1,000 and 2,500 head.

"Ponies and cattle should not be linked for the calculation of stocking rates, and Natural England should not take actions likely to result in a reduction in their numbers."

An Independent Review Panel found Dartmoor ponies provide an invaluable role in conservation grazing. Credit: Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust / Snelgrove Photography

Conservation charity Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust has welcomed the findings.

Earlier this year, the charity launched its "Mouths on the Moor" campaign highlighting how grazing ponies can help control invasive plants, increase biodiversity and reduce the risk of wildfire.

"Our heritage Dartmoor ponies do not just encapsulate the spirit of Dartmoor," Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust CEO Debbie Leach said.

"The Independent Review recognises they are important 'conservation grazers' and help save nature and biodiversity on the moor at a time when many wildlife species are under threat."

Grazing ponies can help reduce the risk of wildfires on the moor. Credit: Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust / Snelgrove Photography

She added the charity is "delighted" with the Review's recommendation that cattle and ponies should be categorised separately when stocking rates on the moor.

"We need to remember that the farmers on Dartmoor need to earn their living, and if you put ponies and cattle in direct competition in terms of the number of grazing heads, then the ponies are going to lose out," Ms Leach said.

"But the report recommends that they are dealt with separately, so farmers can have their allocation of ponies and their allocation of cattle. It will hopefully help reduce the damaging need for Dartmoor's farmers to choose between the two."

Ms Leach added: "We need to see those recommendations translate into action on the ground to benefit Dartmoor's traditional pony herds, natural heritage and wildlife and to help tackle climate change and its impacts at this critical time."