Thursday, 9 December 2010

Dartmoor Hill Pony Association statement

From the following link:  (important parts for discussion are highlighted in red)

"I think you are doing a valuable job at highlighting the issues we are facing on the moor...The various herds are all owned and managed by farmers but to ensure that the ponies do not group together to form one big herd and therefore graze the moor unevenly, the use of stallions is vital as they keep their own mares to their own 'lear' and do not stray to other areas therefore ensuring that grazing levels are balanced all over the moor. Therefore it is not possible to simply "stop" breeding unless valid forms of contraception could be introduced...

...The farmers earn very little money from keeping ponies and it is now a labour of love rather than a profit making enterprise. They want to keep the moor looking as it traditionally always has and should.  Charlotte Faulkner, who has worked very hard on behalf of the ponies for the past 10 years has said "at the moment the markets for foals from the moor are at rock bottom as a result of credit crunch and legislation. This creates a welfare problem as they cannot go back on the moor and the breeders cannot keep them in all winter. I realise now that we must face the bleak reality that we must put our own bottom in the market in order for the future of the ponies on and off the moor to be secured. This has sadly led to the introduction of a sustainable welfare management scheme for those ponies we have to take off the moor but for whatever reason cannot provide a home for, in the two reports commissioned by the National Park on the future of the ponies the same conclusion is drawn. We now have a purpose built local ³humane welfare disposal site, taking ponies straight from the farms to slaughter. This is proving to be a sustainable scheme where by the farmer¹s breed ponies of which the quality ponies go to the sale, and those who don¹t make the grade for whatever reason are dealt with, with compassion and without suffering ordeals of long journeys, going to more sales once they leave Dartmoor etc. It would mean we are no longer in this cleft stick of needing the ponies for conservation on the moor and not having anywhere for them to go, as sterilisation is still not feasible and other methods of not producing so many young stock are still being worked upon."

Ponies are needed on the moor, but it is not possible for the farmers to stop breeding."

On Wednesday 13th October 2010, Charlotte Faulkner from the DHPA featured on BBC Radio 4's Farming Today programme, in a story about the drifts (pony round-ups) on Dartmoor.  When explaining about what happens to the ponies, we were told they do not go for meat and that they are bought for riding ponies.  When asked about how the farmers know which ponies belong to them, it was stated that it was because the farmers "recognise" them.  Now we discover that, in fact, a large number of drifted Hill ponies were going to be culled by the DHPA, and their carcasses used for meat.  This contradicts what we were told in the BBC interview.  It was also disguised that ponies could be "recognised" from ear mutilations. 

In this DHPA statement, it is admitted that unwanted Hill ponies have been sent off on long journeys and endured suffering (presumably, just like the ponies that ended up at Maurs?? How many more have had to endure such journeys and suffering?). 

Reports from Dartmoor suggest that culling of ponies is something that has been happening for many years.  As things stand, next year will be no different.  Mares out on the moor will already be pregnant with next year's crop of foals - foals that are born, only to be culled as part of a "sustainable welfare scheme".  The large scale, indiscriminate breeding continues, and yet, we are told there are fears that Hill ponies will become extinct!  We are also told that there are not enough ponies on the moor for conservation grazing.  This website has highlighted so many incidences of poor management of these ponies on the moor...ponies that are victims of a supposed "labour of love".

There doesn't seem to be any evidence to suggest that taking stallions off the moor would cause it to be unevenly grazed, or that the ponies would group together to form one huge herd.  Studies of equine herd behaviour show that it is not the stallion who is "in-charge" of a herd, but the lead mare.  The area that wild ponies regularly use is known as a home range and there is usually a pattern to where they are found.  Sue Baker's research states that "A home range is the part of the environment an animal or herd of animals uses for its day to day life and is completely familiar with.  It contains all the resources the herd needs for food, water, shelter, and rearing the young.  So, the range must be large enough to supply all the ponies' needs but is not limitless.  This is because under truly natural conditions, the farther the animals wander, the more likely they are to encounter dangers.  The smaller the range is, the better the ponies will know it.  Thus, when disturbed or frightened, they will know exactly the safe routes to follow and the places of refuge".  

Whilst the DHPA has ensured that ponies aren't sold for a couple of pounds at the markets, it appears that the increased price of some ponies has only encouraged farmers to continue breeding more.  Whilst this continues, it undermines any long-term progress.  The current scheme still sees "quality" ponies unsold at market, and farmers still maintain that they are not making much money from the ponies that are sold. 

There needs to be change if there is truly going to be sustainable management of these ponies.