Hundreds more ponies may be culled this winter after the government axed £140,000 from a three-year plan to control numbers on Dartmoor.

Natural England’s decision has left a “very bleak” future for Dartmoors, said Charlotte Faulkner, secretary of the Dartmoor Hill Pony Association.

The market has collapsed due to a drop in demand for ponies as family pets and EU microchipping and passporting rules that have forced up costs.

Around 700 ponies have already been culled this year and 350 more were due to be sold at Tavistock auction last Saturday (4 December), but this was cancelled due to severe weather.

Andrew Goatman, an independent knackerman working in Devon and Cornwall, said he had seen an increase in ponies going for slaughter.

Mrs Faulkner hopes to attract buyers by posting details of ponies on the association website, but she believes most will end up as meat.

“I had put together a plan to keep down numbers of horses and new foals and to secure the viability of the moor, but Natural England no longer has the funding,” she told H&H.

She now hopes to bid for Lottery money.

Natural England said it “remained committed to working with farmers and the Dartmoor National Park Authority to secure a viable and sustainable future for ponies”.

There are around 1,500 ponies on Dartmoor and some 900 foals are born annually.

This article was first published in the current issue of Horse & Hound, 9 December 2010