Page last updated at 20:54 GMT, Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Branding of Exmoor ponies to be banned in Scotland

Vets says branding ponies is unacceptable

The use of hot irons to brand a rare breed of pony is to be banned in Scotland, a minster says.

Exmoor ponies have been identified by brands for generations but opponents say the process is cruel.

Scottish Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said no further authorisations would be granted and regulations would be altered pending a consultation.

The Exmoor Pony Society, formed in 1921 to protect the rare blood line, said it would fight the decision.

Only about 3,000 of the breed exist worldwide, with just a few hundred in Britain, mainly concentrated in south west England, including on Exmoor in Devon and Somerset.

Our policy which allows the hot branding of equines ... is difficult to justify
Richard Lochhead, environment secretary

Brandings need to be officially authorised in Scotland. Nine permits were issued in 2009.

Mr Lochhead's decision was set out in a letter to SNP MSP Bill Wilson, who has campaigned on the issue in the Scottish Parliament.

Mr Lochhead said: "I have given this further thought and have, on reflection, decided that our policy which allows the hot branding of equines, even when only allowed by a specific authorisation, is difficult to justify."

He added: "Although it may take some time to amend the necessary legislation, hot branding will no longer be permitted as no authorisations will be issued."

Mr Wilson said the move was "very welcome".

He said: "Hot branding is a primitive and unreliable means of identification, so there is no justification for it."

The British Veterinary Association has also described hot branding as "unacceptable" on welfare grounds.

However, the Exmoor Pony Society said that such a ban was "not good for the breed".

Micro-chipping of the ponies was made compulsory in 2009 under EU law, but the society said that form of identification was suitable only for handled animals.

A spokeswoman for the society said: "They're semi-feral and they need identification that can be read at a distance."

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