DEFRA has extended its funding for the National Equine Database (NED) in light of more delays, and has admitted disappointment that the project has not yet gone live.

In a first newsletter sent out to Passport Issuing Organisations (PIOs), NED shadow board chairman and DEFRA official for the horse James Bradley said: “Last January we believed it possible to launch NED during 2005, disappointingly it proved to be more complicated than expected.”

But it is planned to give a handful of PIOs access to the database from April, with an online version hopefully going live to the public in October.

“Phase one [uploading data to give PIOs access online] is nearly complete and we hope to launch in April,” said Alison Reeves, head of DEFRA’s equine division. “We’ll roll it out for 10 organisations as a pilot, gather feedback, and then launch. We’re not announcing the public launch until we’re 100% confident it will happen on time — but it will be before the end of 2006.”

All PIOs (many of which are breed societies) are compelled to send passport data to NED. They are also asked to volunteer breeding and competition data on British-bred horses, providing trackable performance information that would-be breeders and horse buyers will pay to access. But industry hesitancy over data privacy has been holding up NED’s progress.

In the NED newsletter, Mr Bradley called for more voluntary data. “The number of organisations supplying voluntary data has been disappointing,” he said. “We require a firm commitment from data providers that they will be supplying the remainder of the voluntary data. It will not make sense to launch without it.”

But H&H spoke to several PIOs last week, some of whom were still unsure whether to volunteer information, while others would not be able to do so for several months.

Sandra Mansell, secretary of the British Connemara Pony Society, said: “We haven’t made a final decision — we’ve got our breeding data on our own website, so council wanted to wait and see how [NED] developed before we made a final decision.”

A spokesman for the Dartmoor Pony Society said providing voluntary data was a low priority because inputting would cost time and money for the small society.

Sport Horse Breeding of Great Britain (SHB (GB)) secretary Catherine Burdock said the society would supply voluntary data, but only if NED’s terms and conditions were agreeable to SHB (GB)’s lawyers and after a council vote.

“The terms and conditions went to our lawyers on 13 January and, provided they are agreeable, the earliest date a decision will be made by council is in April,” said Ms Burdock. “And it is not even definitely on the agenda for that meeting.”

Caroline Collinssplatt from the Irish Draught Horse Society (GB) had concerns over the delays.

“I wondered if there was a problem,” she said. “The society is happy to provide breeding data because NED can’t be up and running for the public without it — but we will wait until we’re chased because it’s just more work.”

Whether the data will be supplied in time for a public launch to begin to fund the project is unclear at this stage. But the government has committed to funding the project for an extra six months, to the end of the 2006/07 financial year — with the industry now looking at ways to fund it, according to DEFRA.

  • This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (23 February, ’06)
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