The first breeding herd of Exmoor ponies is being established in the Czech Republic to help restore rare grassland habitat in a national park.

Fourteen mares left the UK on 26 January and were released in a former army base in Milovic Nymburk, about 20 miles from Prague.

After an acclimatisation period in a small enclosure the ponies were released into a 40 hectare area on Saturday (21 March).

A stallion will join the mares in April.

The EU-funded project has been organised by European Wildlife, a Czech-based conservation organisation.

The Moorland Mousie Trust was given €18,000 to find the mares and a stallion. All the ponies had to be registered Exmoor ponies between five and 15 years old.

“We had to find 14 mares of different bloodlines that could be handled as they were going out to be a breeding herd,” said Juliet Rogers, chairman of the Trust.

Two ponies came from the Tawbitts herd and three more from the Knightoncombe herd on Exmoor. The John Parker horse transport lorry was too big to get into Dulverton so the ponies had to be shipped over to Wheddon Cross for collection.

These were joined in Dover by others collected from the Trust’s Northumberland grazing base from breeders in Inverness and the north of England.

A 40-hectare enclosure has been built in the Czech national park to enable the ponies to get to know each other before the stallion arrives in April. The site will be gradually extended to give them more room to roam. Animal behaviourists will be studying them to see how they all get on.

The ponies will be grazed with big black Aurock cattle to get rid of the scrub that is encroaching the wildflowers in the park.

The Czecks looked at other breeds including Konigs and Hucul but decided the Exmoor was the nearest pony to the one that originally grazed mainland Europe.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to increase the profile of the Exmoor pony, which is a versatile and hardy pony with a well deserved reputation as a conservation pony,” added Juliet.