Friday, 22 April 2011

BBC1 Countryfile covers mass slaughter of Dartmoor Hill Ponies

On Sunday 17th April 2011, BBC Countryfile featured the plight of the Dartmoor Hill Ponies.  Click here and fastforward to 15.56 minutes to watch the feature:

The programme features South West Equine Protection (a registered charity on Dartmoor that does welfare callouts), Andrew Goatman (slaughterman), Dartmoor National Park Authority (promoting conservation grazing by the ponies), the Dartmoor Hill Pony Association (with Mary Alford, breeder, in defence of the slaughter scheme), Dartmoor Zoological Park (which now sells Dartmoor Hill Pony meat to other zoos), and the Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust (which handles and adds value to "pure-bred" Dartmoor ponies - fewer, quality ponies being bred achieves a better price).

Wild Ponies SW would like to make the following points about the quotations below from the feature: 

  • There is no Dartmoor Hill Pony "breed".  "Hill" pony is a general term used for unregistered ponies born on Dartmoor.  There is no "breed standard", grade, or pedigree.  There were no "problems" with the ponies being culled - they were described as "lively" but they were wild, unhandled, unwanted ponies - bred for no purpose.
  • How can killing nearly half of the population of Hill Ponies in a year (and feeding them to tigers, lions and bears) be helping to preserve the ponies?  Why was this scheme set up by the very pony association which is supposed to support Hill ponies?  Are the DHPA saying that none of the 800-1500 Hill ponies culled met the "breed standard" and so weren't worth keeping?  The zoos were already well supplied with meat from other sources.
  • In answer to Mary Alford's reply of "What are we supposed to do with them?  Is there an answer to that?" - Yes...Take ALL the Hill Pony stallions off the moor, and stop indiscriminately breeding large numbers of unwanted foals.    Breeders of Heritage and pure-bred Dartmoor ponies are not in this situation because they responded to the market conditions a long time ago.  They looked for responsible ways of keeping ponies, and now their ponies are valued for what they are, and continue to make a good price.

Quotes from the programme:

- "Despite appearances, they're not actually wild, all the ponies are owned by farmers who are responsible for their welfare"  Tom Heap, Countryfile presenter.

- "From the end of January to the middle of March this year, we were doing 3 welfare callouts a week, split between Dartmoor and Bodmin Moors".  Faye Stacey, South West Equine Protection.

- How have these 4 [ponies] been selected? 
"They've all got problems, they're basically not up to the standard which you would be able to sell them for riding ponies, a couple of these are quite lively and there's just not a market for those kind of ponies".
Does that actually mean they are unhealthy, or have they just not met the grade in terms of the pedigree for sale?
"It's not met the grade, would be a better way of putting it, it doesn't matter what animal you breed, a certain number will always not make the sale standard". Andrew Goatman, slaughterman.

- "The ponies are a incredibly important as a major conservation tool, to deliver the biodiversity and the landscape that the public love to visit" Robert Stevenson, DNP.

- Do you find it sad that they're having to be culled, or is that a bit of a soft outsider's view?
"It's the same as the cattle and the sheep, and, it's natural, you know, part of our traditional Dartmoor farming system".
So, it's not just the case that people are either lazy in letting them overbreed, or possibly greedy and wanting to breed for cash?
"No, no, the pony breeding on Dartmoor is a very old traditional way and it's been done for many, many generations."
And what would you say to people who look at animals being culled and, you know, feel very unhappy about that?
"What are we supposed to do with them? [long pause] Is there an answer to that"? Mary Alford, Dartmoor Hill Pony Association.

- "One of these large carnivores can probably get through one pony a week...We've recently been licensed by Defra to provide meat to other zoos, which plays an important role in the conservation of the Dartmoor Pony breed".  George Hyde, Dartmoor Zoological Park.

- "Both these ponies were bought at the auction for ten pounds each, and I have the market catalogue here, and both of them were described as making lovely child's riding ponies...And both of these ponies are actually blind". 

"People are going to market and buying ponies which are completely unhandled, your average horse owner that could go to the market a pick her [a pony] up for ten pounds, just isn't going to have the skills to be able to cope with her" [Talking about a spotted pony that went to 6 homes after being bought at auction because no-one could do anything with her]. Faye Stacey, South West Equine Protection.

- "Handling is a financial opportunity to add value...The market place should be hungry and pay for a quality animal, rather than having hungry lions eating them.  If they're not worth anything, in essence, we won't have Dartmoor ponies.  It's a simple as that". Dru Butterfield, Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust.