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Wednesday, 29 August, 2001, 15:48 GMT 16:48 UK
Bleak winter for moor ponies
Running ponies
The ponies can carry foot-and-mouth disease
A charity director has warned that the future of Dartmoor ponies will be threatened if officials ban the annual sales.

The rural affairs ministry, DEFRA, has yet to rule on whether the traditional "drift" to round-up ponies can take place.

Brian Kind, administrator of the Mare and Foal Sanctuary at Chudleigh, Devon, says animals will die if left on the moor.

Devon has had 173 confirmed cases of foot-and-mouth disease, and livestock movements are restricted.

Somehow or other the ponies are going to have to be removed from the moor. A lot of them will die if they are left up there

Brian Kind

A cull of wild ponies and deer was ruled out by the government's chief vet, Jim Scudamore, when the disease was first confirmed on the moor itself.

Dartmoor's ponies were first recorded in a bequest by Bishop Aelfwold in 1012.

The annual drift taken place for hundreds of years.

The animals are taken off the moor to be sold at auctions between October and December.

But livestock sales are still banned under foot-and-mouth restrictions.

The ponies cannot be infected by the disease, but they share the moors with sheep and can be carriers.

Low prices

The ponies are owned by commoners, who have free grazing rights.

Mr Kind said: "The great problem is that many commoners can't afford to keep the ponies.

Ponies on moor
Dartmoor ponies are a part of the landscape
"They were selling for a pound each last year. It's just not economical.

"But somehow or other the ponies are going to have to be removed from the moor," said Mr Kind.

"A lot of them will die if they are left up there.

"But if there's no drift, I think they will have to be left on the moor."

The real damage could come next year, though, he said, if too many mares became pregnant and survived the winter to foal.

The problem of caring for them would become even more acute.

See also:

13 Jul 00 | Wales
Concern at 'ponies for 1'
05 Nov 99 | Sci/Tech
Conservationists rely on pony power
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