Concerns about the future of Fell ponies bred in the traditional way on the hills in the Lake District have given rise to a new project. H&H speaks to breeders and enthusiasts about the current challenges...
Calls have been made to raise awareness of the hill-bred Fell pony to support the rare breed’s future in its native environment.
It is hoped an awareness project and heritage centre will bring attention to the breed after concerns raised by owners and breeders about the future of hill-bred ponies and potential changes to grazing policies.
Heidi Allison, of Form & Function Photography, told H&H she has launched a project taking photographs of Fell herds with plans to release a book featuring the images.
“There are not many herds left on the hills in the Lake District and I felt if we don’t do something to raise awareness, we’re going to lose them,” she said.
“There’s lots of older breeders trying to keep the herds going and it’s a real fear if the younger generation doesn’t step in, the ponies in their natural habitat could become a thing of the past.”
Fell Pony Breeders Association chairman Libby Robinson told H&H it is an issue that people do not associate the Fell pony with the Lake District.
“Over the next year we are hoping to find a place to open a Fell pony heritage centre as a hub where people can learn more about the breed,” she said. “The herds have been diminishing in numbers over the past 20 years and the problem is these working ponies don’t have a job any more.”
Ms Robinson added she is concerned future government grazing policies could have an impact on herd ponies, adding: “If farmers can’t graze their ponies [on the hills], they’ll be no more.”
David Thompson, who owns a herd, agreed it is important to secure a future for the breed.
“If they were allowed to disappear from the fells it would be an absolute travesty. Many hill breeders are in their 70s and 80s; if there is nothing done to stop the herds disappearing, they will be gone for ever,” he told H&H.
Fell Pony Society chairman Peter Boustead told H&H the society has been liaising with the World Heritage Centre, as the Lake District features on the list of World Heritage sites, to promote the breed.
“We have put the World Heritage Centre in touch with some of the breeders on the commons, and while World Heritage can’t do anything to help the ponies directly, they have allowed us to put an article on their website about the ponies and have been very supportive,” he said.
A spokesman for Natural England said Fell ponies are an “important part” of the cultural heritage of the area, adding Natural England supports the conservation benefits the ponies bring through “appropriate” grazing.
“We will continue to work with farmers to achieve more sustainable grazing and avoid practices, such as year-round heavy grazing, that may be detrimental to protected habitats,” he said.
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