Exmoor Pony News

Exmoor National Park has been working closely with the Exmoor Pony Society, the Moorland Exmoor Pony Breeders Group and the Moorland Mousie Trust to develop a number of projects to support free-living Exmoor pony herds. Exmoor ponies are an important part of the landscape of the National Park and one of its special qualities.

What makes an Exmoor pony an Exmoor Pony? Trying to find the answer is one of the actions the group agreed on. In addition to the organisations mentioned, the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, Defra, local vet Peter Green and Nottingham University have been working together to work out how to characterise the full genome of the Exmoor pony.  The genome is an animal’s complete set of DNA, including all of its genes. If the genome is defined, it will help us to understand where the pony has come from and which other breeds it is closely related to.  It could also help to guide future breeding programmes.  

During the last World War, pony numbers on Exmoor were drastically reduced – meat was in short supply and by the end of the war only around 50 ponies were left.  It is from this tiny population that all Exmoor ponies derive.  The genetic pool is, therefore, very small and it is important to try and preserve as much genetic diversity as possible to ensure the long term welfare of the ponies on the moor. 

The team is currently agreeing the scope of work and fundraising for the project. If successful, the first phase will go ahead when the ponies are collected from the moor at the annual gatherings.  Samples will be taken from the ponies and analysed by scientists at Nottingham. It is hoped that by early next year we will, for the first time, have the genome of the Exmoor pony.

Exmoor Pony Grant Fund

In another initiative, Exmoor National Park Authority has established an Exmoor Pony Grant Fund to promote and conserve free-living Exmoor ponies. Grant applications could include equipment, measures to conserve the landscape using Exmoor ponies, promotion of the breed, marketing or research.

Sarah Bryan, Head of Conservation & Access at Exmoor National Park said:

“The Exmoor landscape would be incomplete without the free living Exmoor pony and I believe that the Genome Project marks a pivotal moment in the long term survival of this endangered breed. We are delighted with the progress that is being made and look forward to seeing the results of this innovative project.

“We are also pleased to be able to announce the launch of the Exmoor Pony Grant in recognition of the essential work that owners carry out to keep these iconic herds on the moor and we look forward to receiving applications.” 

Grants of up to £500 on a total project spend of £1,000 are available. For more information visit: http://bit.ly/1XV6zCG or from Monday 6 June please contact Heather Harley, conservation officer (farming & land management) on 01398 322277, hjharley@exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk

Photo taken by Nigel Stone/ENPA

Photo taken by Nigel Stone/ENPA


News from Exmoor National Park

603 Clayton Jane Exmoor Pony


The welfare, breeding and management of the free-living Exmoor Ponies within the National Park is the subject of a new, independent report commissioned by the Exmoor Moorland Landscape Partnership Scheme, the Exmoor Pony Society and Exmoor National Park Authority.


The report, The free-living ponies within the Exmoor National Park: their status, welfare and future, compiled by local veterinarian Peter Green MRCVS, confirms that the free-living Exmoor ponies are in good health, are a distinctive local breed and a valuable asset to the amenity and heritage of the National Park.  It seems likely that there is a need to adapt current arrangements to safeguard the future of the Exmoor pony breed and the famous free roaming moorland herds.


Sarah Bryan, Exmoor National Park Head of Conservation & Access said: “The key to success is the different organisations working together with the moorland herd owners and land owners to improve the situation and this report will be used to inform an action plan.”


The full report is available at: http://www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/environment/wildlife-and-ponies/exmoor-ponies  and anyone with an interest in the future of Exmoor ponies is welcome to comment via the form provided.

Jason Ball, manager for the moorland partnership said: “This is an excellent independent report – the moorland herd owners have discussed Peter Green’s findings directly with him at a presentation evening and Exmoor National Park Authority will be collecting their feedback.”

Sue McGeever from the Exmoor Pony Society commented: “The society is delighted that the Exmoor Moorland Landscape Partnership commissioned this report to look at the long-term future of moorland herds and is looking forward to continuing its working relationship with the Exmoor National Park Authority, the Rare Breed Survival Trust and the moorland farmers to ensure that it fulfils its role as ‘Guardians of the Breed’ whilst working within the current EU/DEFRA legislation.

“The Exmoor Pony Society was founded in 1921 by a group of moorland farmers with the aim of keeping the free-living ponies living on Exmoor ‘true to type’ and in their words ‘without foreign blood’.  In order to do so, they introduced a studbook and an inspection process which has continued throughout the decades – the low point was post the Second World War when just 50 ponies remained on the moor and there are now nearer 500 registered ponies running in 21 herds.”

PS:  The study was commissioned as part of the Empowering Moorland Managers project on the Heart of Exmoor Scheme, and the findings will help shape future management practices on the moors. The scheme is grateful to the Leader Funding from West Somerset Local Action and from Leader for Torridge and North Devon; also the Heritage Lottery Fund.