A rare strain of wild Welsh ponies may have a more secure future, after a research project established that they are “genetically distinct” from section As.

The discovery means the Carneddau ponies, who are owned by local farmers and graze the mountains of Snowdonia in north Wales, will now be eligible for conservation schemes.

PhD student Clare Winton, who conducted the research, found that their DNA, taken from hair samples, showed they have been isolated for several centuries.

“They have genetic markers that are very distinct from the Welsh section A, with which they share their ancestry,” said Ms Winton, from Aberyswyth University.

“Nothing shows on the outside and it is not a breed as such, but there are enough unique mutations to show that they’ve developed their own genetic signature.”

There were around 300 Carneddau ponies in existence at the last annual round-up, but numbers have reduced dramatically — 50 bodies were found after the harsh winter.

In 2005, all ponies were given microchips and passports by the local authority.

Now, however, newborn Carneddaus have been granted exemption — unless they are sold — due to their vital role within the ecology of Snowdonia.

The ponies are chiefly used for grazing the hills, keeping the grass short as part of a project to preserve the birdlife on the Carneddau mountains.

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (13 June 2013)