There are concerns over the future of an important herd of Exmoors after the Exmoor Pony Society has said it cannot register them.

Christina Williams told H&H the herd of more than 40 ponies on her family’s Molland estate represent a significant bloodline, but will not pass the society’s “unnecessarily rigorous” DNA testing.

The society argues it has made every effort to register the ponies, but under strict Defra and EU legislation, it cannot, because they are not out of a licensed stallion.

A Defra spokesman said: “A recognised breed society must enter a horse in the main section of its studbook if its parents are entered and it has a pedigree established in accordance with the studbook rules.

“There are some limited circumstances where horses that do not meet these criteria may also be entered in the main section.”

Mrs Williams is in 1 of 7 big moorland families on the recently formed Moorland Exmoor Pony Breeders Group, which is independent of the Exmoor Pony Society.

This was set up in January in response to vet Peter Green’s Exmoor Pony report, which highlights the difficulties facing the free-living moorland herds.

Mr Green said the future security of the free-living Exmoor pony cannot be guaranteed because “there are no restrictions in place on non-Exmoors grazing the moor and interbreeding with the Exmoor herds”.

Under the present arrangement, landowners, farmers and graziers do not have to remove the obviously non-Exmoor colts currently running free on some areas of the moor and breeding with Exmoor ponies.

The report mentions the difficulties with the registration of Exmoor-looking ponies, where parentage cannot be proven, as another factor affecting the future of the breed.

Dawn Westcott from the group admitted there are some issues regarding the Molland ponies’ DNA parentage verification. But she said they are “a genetically important herd of long-standing ‘true to type’ Exmoor ponies, where the mature mares have passed the strict physical inspection required for Exmoor ponies”.

The Exmoor pony is in the endangered category on the Rare Breeds Survival Trust’s watchlist, with just 300-500 registered breeding females.