The much-loved Exmoor pony could be at risk from non pure bred ponies getting on to the moor according to a new report, writes Athwenna Irons.
The report by local vet Peter Green, "The free living Exmoor ponies within the Exmoor National Park: their status, welfare and future", was commissioned by the Exmoor National Park Authority, the Exmoor Pony Society and the Exmoor Moorland Landscape Partnership Scheme.
As one of our native breeds, the pony has grazed Exmoor's rough moorland pasture for 100s of years.
The report says there is a "sizeable population" of ponies on the moor which do not conform to the breed standard, with non Exmoor ponies either escaping or being deliberately released on to the moor. Mr Green said: "Several graziers and farmers have reported that ponies have been 'dumped' or abandoned on the open moor."
He suggests this could be due to owners no longer being able to afford to keep them, who fear selling the animal through auctions or dealers.
"There is no doubt that, at present over a large area of Exmoor, the free living Exmoor pony herds are co-habiting with fertile non-Exmoor animals," said Mr Green.
"Cross breeding is inevitable and some of the non-Exmoor stallions are larger and more dominant than the pure breds," he continued.
Chairman of the Exmoor Pony Society David Brewer said a combination of small factors including poor fencing and gates not being closed could be leading to the rise in cross-bred ponies. He also spoke of a need for more communication between all parties involved to address the problem.
"At this moment in time, it is not an unsolvable problem. The national park and owners of individual herds need to work together and then it can all fall in to place.
"The Exmoor is a numerically small, rare breed and we are trying to preserve the integrity of the pure bred pony", said Mr Brewer.