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A remote group of Carneddau ponies surviving on Snowdonia’s hills are to be the subject of a new study with the aim of saving them from extinction.

Researchers at Aberystwyth University will undertake a four-year project looking at the ponies’ mating behaviour. Having grazed on the slopes of the Carneddau for at least 500 years, a mere 180 remain.

The ponies hold such little economic value that they face an uncertain future; at one point passport costs were exceeding the worth of the animals.

Hill farmers hope the project will enable them to be classified as a distinct rare breed, exempting them from EU horse passport legislation.

Equine lecturer Dr Debbie Nash said: “It is difficult to find true feral horses because most ponies, such as those on Dartmoor, are intensively managed.”

These ponies, thought to be descendents of the ancient Celtic pony, are important to the cultural heritage of the area and help maintain plant and insect diversity on the mountain slopes.