Thursday, 17 February 2011

Ponies dying on Bodmin Moor

A shocking press release from South West Equine Protection -

The Daily Mail have picked it up -

and it was shown on BBC Spotlight news -
The Daily Mail article has now received many comments from members of the public. Some offer help, or want to know what they can do; some are critical of the observation and apparent inaction of welfare organisations; some don't believe that the ponies are owned (because they are described as 'wild') and many people are asking questions about the situation.

It's 99.9% sympathetic; I think I saw only one negative commment that said 'they're wild. It's a non-story.'

Here are some facts in answer to those questions.

The ponies are ALL OWNED. They are called 'wild' because that is how they live; their owners use grazing rights on the moor. Some people may call them 'free-living' or 'semi-feral'. The idea is that new foals are born in the spring and early summer, the ponies get rounded up in the autumn, sorted out and either sold or put back on the moor. Since 2009, new foals are legally required to be microchipped. If animals are microchipped, owners can be identified. Older animals might have been ear notched or branded. It's possible that ponies may have been dumped on the moor by people who don't have grazing rights and just want to get rid of ponies. You have to realise that the market is non-existent; ponies sell for next to nothing or are shot for zoo meat or may be transported to the Continent. The whole over-breeding problem is another issue.

Some farmers have a responsible attitude to their animals. The ones that don't would not bother to microchip, would not check on the ponies, would not provide extra feed and would deny ownership if there was a problem because if they admit ownership they are liable to prosecution for neglect. Ponies that look as if they are poorly would most likely be shot, because it's cheaper and much easier than helping them.

Horse welfare organisations are ALL full, including us. Even so, for such an extreme case, room would be found somehow.

This particular problem was flagged up late in January 2011. SWEP responded, despite being many miles away from Bodmin Moor. Faye Stacey, their Pony Welfare Officer, has to make a three hour round trip to get there. Of course all the proper authorities were contacted. DEFRA and Trading Standards have been to see for themselves. They decided that there is not a problem, thereby leaving SWEP no option but to go to the Press. There is plenty of legislation in place to prevent this kind of cruelty but no-one is enforcing it!

Yes, the ponies are priority. Yes, even though it is their owners' job, hay could be given. If there is a group of ponies, the strongest will get the most. Anyway, they are not going to be standing conveniently by the roadside, waiting for it. Sometimes it takes an hour or longer to search for them, sometimes in vain, walking over the roughest terrain; there are hills, bogs and sometimes thick fog to contend with. But for the emaciated ones, hay is not enough. They need to come off the moor and receive veterinary attention. They may not be handleable. In which case they need to be drifted and transported by people with the sympathetic handling skills necessary. Even when seriously ill a wild pony can and will summon every ounce of its remaining energy to avoid capture especially if its previous experience of humans has been to be ear notched or hot branded. A mobile handling unit needs to be sourced, funded and transported. A horsebox is required. A vet would be useful. Many experienced people are needed to drift the ponies to a suitable collection point. So the logistics of such an operation are complicated. For these smaller charities all this organisation does not necessarily coincide with office hours - it is a round the clock job; they are used to that. Bigger organisations work 9 to 5 Monday to Friday!

What can people do to help?
Keep up the pressure for the law to be enforced - write to
- Kevin Lavery, Chief Executive of Cornwall Council -
- Your local MP, to raise support on a Parliamentary level.
- James Paice, Defra Minister - (it is Defra who will have the authority to seize the ponies in poor condition).

To send a message or ask a question, please click on the 'comments' link below