Future bleak for Dartmoor's much-loved iconic ponies
Doubts about the sustainability of keeping Dartmoor ponies on the moor were fuelled yesterday as only half the lots found a buyer at the first of this year's drift sales.
Philip Cleave's herd of ten bay filly foals kicked off the proceedings at Tavistock Livestock Centre, but not one received a single bid.
"It's the first time we've never had a bid," said Mr Cleave, of Holne, who has kept ponies for the past 24 years.
"I can't say I'm surprised at the poor trade because it was what I expected, but we thought we should really try and do our best." Mr Cleave only brought fillies to the sale, rather than colt foals, as he deemed them to be the "only saleable thing".
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"Where do we go now? – they'll come back home with me and I'll try and sell them privately as they can't go back on the moor because we just don't want them. If it wasn't for the environmental payment schemes all our ponies would go next week."
Mr Cleave added: "People who want them on the moor have got to take responsibility as much as we have – we are farmers trying to make a living out of Dartmoor and we are encouraged to keep ponies but there is no sale here, so why keep them?"
After generations of keeping ponies, Fred and Donna Penwill, of Mary Tavy, have taken the decision to "drastically" cut their stock. Their pen of seven grey mares and two yearlings stood out from the crowd but just five mares sold for less than 20 guineas each.
"We are cutting right back as we can't sell the foals and our grazing units have been reduced, so we can't put them back on the moor either," said Donna, who said many farmers were in the same predicament.
"We love to see the ponies out on the moor and it's so sad to see them go. It's a tradition of Dartmoor to see them roaming free – the locals love them as well as the tourists – but in a minute they will all be gone."
Pony keeper Mary Alford, of Whitchurch, was sad to hear of the Penwills' reduction in stock. She said: "The Penwills run a unique herd of ponies. They've been bred to withstand the moorland conditions – they have the conformation, temperament and grazing ability for the high moor. It's not just a sad loss for them, it's sad for Dartmoor."