Friday, November 5, 1999 Published at 16:35 GMT
Conservationists rely on pony power
Only a few years ago Exmoor ponies were close to extinction
By the BBC's Matthew Leach
A few decades ago there were only 50 ponies left after many had been killed for food during war-time rationing. The breed was close to extinction. It might have died out altogether but for the work of Exmoor enthusiasts and although numbers are now up to 1,000 worldwide, the ponies are still endangered.
Margaret Mackintosh and her husband Tim run Exmoor Ponies In Conservation. They keep a small herd at Silverdale in Lancashire and promote their use in what is called conservation grazing.
Mrs Mackintosh says, ''We've had success with the ponies on several sites in the area. It's a great niche for them and we've been able to breed some ponies purely because there's now this need for them on the grazing programme.''
At the Gait Barrows National Nature Reserve in Silverdale one of their jobs has been to clear a wetland site. More efficient than lawnmowers and less harmful than herbicides they're a conservationists dream.
The site manager at Gait Barrows, Rob Petley-Jones, says the ponies are excellent at eating all the rank grasses and regrowing scrub. He says the grazing has allowed flowers to come through which provide food for the caterpillar of one of Britain's rarest butterflies, the marsh fritillary.
Another important plus to having the ponies on the job is they'll work round the clock and in all weathers. Exmoors are now being used this way in Cumbria, Yorkshire and Kent, and the idea has even attracted interest from abroad.
The neat trick of giving one endangered breed a better chance of survival by using it to help other rare species to thrive can't help but be appealing. With the growing demand for them on conservation sites it seems that having found a new purpose this beautiful breed of ponies may now have a more secure future.