The Dartmoor Pony sales took place last week with large crowds of people and buyers from as far away as Northern Ireland and Cumbria, Durham, Yorkshire and Lancashire in the north and Norfolk in the east, as well as more local buyers.
Auctioneers Rendells said they enjoyed a more buoyant trade than had been seen for some years with a high proportion of the 258 ponies sold at an average price of £88, although a number of colts failed to sell.
The quality of the ponies was noticeably impressive with the top price on the day of 520 guineas for a coloured filly, owned R A Steed. The sale last week was one of the most successful sales for many years, helped by the fine weather.
The top prices paid were 520 guineas for a large coloured filly to R A Steed, 400 guineas to P & V Pearce, 340 guineas to M Alford.
The sale could not have gone ahead without the work of Charlotte Faulkner and her team from the Dartmoor Hill Pony Association who were busy passporting the many ponies that were sold.
It seems that the Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) are beginning to wake up to the importance of ponies on Dartmoor; in a recent letter from Catherine Harrold, DEFRA, she thanked pony sale organisers for their pragmatic solution in dealing with the sale.
The letter from Defra reads: Ministers here have asked me to thank you for all you have done and to say how much they value the work on pony and horse welfare, a subject which, as you know, is extremely important to them. In particular they have asked me to thank you for putting forward your pragmatic solution for the particular circumstances on the moor for the sale this year.
We know and expect, that every effort will be made to protect, promote and maintain the welfare of the ponies during the sale; and that all the necessary additions, such as appropriate equipment and sufficient trained staff, will be put in place. I am also very pleased that Pet ID Equine have said they will again be present to assist the process. I am sure it will be very helpful to you to have them there.
You know that the rules relating to equine identification are contained in EU and domestic legislation. In this regard, I can confirm that we are content for you to use the combination of microchip and high definition photograph as an alternative to the silhouette. This is permitted by the rules.
I know some people hoped for a digital solution this time around. That was obviously not possible, but I am keen to explore the potential for next year and for the longer term, and more generally to keep working with you to ensure we can ensure the smooth running of the sale each and every year. It would be helpful to discuss next steps with you all once next week is out of the way. In the meantime, I hope you have a very successful sale.
Deputy Director, Future Animal & Plant Health, Endemics & Traceability (FAPHET)
The Dartmoor Preservation Association has also written a letter supporting the submission to Defra. This letter reads: Confirmation of support for a submission regarding Dartmoor’s semi-wild ponies.
Since 1883, members of the Dartmoor Preservation Association (DPA) have campaigned for the protection and enhancement of Dartmoor. One of our formal policies states:
“The DPA recognises the importance of ponies to the Dartmoor landscape and supports those schemes which are in keeping with good husbandry and which will ensure the survival of a healthy pony stock”
Aside from their cultural and tourist value, the semi-wild pony herds on Dartmoor play a vital role in the preservation of the Dartmoor ecosystem. It is no exaggeration to say that they are crucial to preserving the landscape of the National Park.
Without the ponies, Dartmoor as we know it today would no longer exist. Their conservation value is not only recognised on Dartmoor, but also by organisations throughout the country, which use them to improve biodiversity on their land.
Despite this, their continuing existence is precarious at best. Numbers, believed to be around 30,000 in the middle of the 20th century, have now fallen below 1,000.
Prices paid for them at market have declined to the point that they do not cover the costs of taking them there. Additional costs for passports and veterinary charges mean that these iconic animals are no longer viable from a commercial point of view.
Although the financial and conservation benefits provided by the ponies is generally recognised, they do not attract any form of public subsidy, unlike the sheep and cattle which graze alongside them. Unless this is remedied, their numbers will continue to decline. The Agriculture Bill presents an opportunity for representatives of Defra to address this important issue. It would be disastrous if the semi-wild ponies of Dartmoor were to disappear, when this could be remedied at a relatively small cost to the public purse. The DPA fully supports the submission to the House of Commons Agricultural Bill Committee by Joss Hibbs regarding “Public Payment for Public Goods” and would urge the Committee to act upon its evidence and recommendations.
Chief Executive, Dartmoor Preservation Association
The Friends of the Dartmoor Hill Pony have produced 3,000 postcards for members of the public to post to Tamara Finkelstein, permanent secretary of DEFRA, to “pledge support for the submission made to DEFRA under the Agricultural Bill Review asking that the semi-wild ponies of Dartmoor are considered a Public Good attracting Public Payment.”
The Moorlander has reprinted the postcard which readers can cut out and post to DEFRA, giving your support and asking them to save the ponies on Dartmoor.
The Moorlander would like to thank those who have been in contact with positive comments regarding our article on Dartmoor Ponies in the last edition. We would like to clarify that although there is a difference between the Hill Pony and the Dartmoor Pony, both breeds are equally of value and our support of the submission to DEFRA is aiming to secure the future of all ponies on Dartmoor.