Vets have issued a reminder that the ear notching and tagging of horses and ponies is banned following an episode of a BBC1 programme that featured ponies with ear mutilations.

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) contacted Countryfile after the 31 October show featured semi-feral ponies in Wales.

The team visited a farmer in Snowdonia for the annual health check of his herd.

Presenter Jules Hudson asked how the ponies could be told apart and the farmer explained it was by earmarks — footage of ponies with ear tags and notches cut into the ear was then shown.

Ear tagging has not been permitted since 2007, when the Animal Welfare Act 2006 came into law.

And following the introduction of compulsory microchipping in July 2010 tagging should not be necessary, said the BVA.

BVA president Harvey Locke said: “It appears there was widespread ignorance of the rules among those taking part in the programme. As vets we have a responsibility to ensure clients comply with animal health and welfare legislation.

“The BVA will be contacting those responsible for enforcing the legislation [Local Government Regulation and the Welsh Local Government Association] relating to ear mutilations to make sure the law is being policed.”

Colin Thomas from the Hill Pony Improvement Society of Wales was not aware that the practice was illegal and agreed more needs to be done to make farmers aware.

“I don’t earmark my ponies, but it’s a tradition that’s been in place for hundreds of years. I didn’t know it was banned and there are probably many who aren’t aware of the exclusion. We brand ponies. I know people don’t like that, either, but it’s a more visible means of identification than microchips.”

Welfare organisation People4Ponies contacted the BVA after the show aired.

Faye Stacey from the group says she has seen plenty of ear markings around Dartmoor and Bodmin since the ban.

“We were astonished to see the practice on Countryfile, but many farmers do not seem to be aware earmarking is illegal — hopefully, this will get the message through and we will see less of it.”

A Countryfile spokesman told H&H: “We are grateful to the BVA for bringing this to our attention and hope to clarify the point in a future programme.”

This article was first published in the current issue of Horse & Hound, 2 December 2010