Btain’s oldest breed of ponies could be wiped out because of rampant cross-breeding, a wildlife report warned today.
Exmoor ponies have been grazing on the pastures of Exmoor National Park in Devon and Somerset since prehistoric times.
But a new report says the animals are increasingly mating with other breeds of horse who are being dumped on the moor because their owners can no longer afford them.
The surge in cross-breeding is producing larger, more dominant animals and threatening the existence of genuine pure-bred Exmoor ponies.
They are already classified as “endangered” because the number of adult breeding mares has fallen to between 100 and 300.
Local author and veterinary surgeon Peter Green said more must be done to prevent cross-breeding.
He said the problem was caused by a surge in hard-up horse owners dumping ponies on the moorland.
Mr Green said: “Several graziers and farmers have reported that ponies have been ‘dumped’ or abandoned on the open moor.
“There is no doubt that, at present over a large area of Exmoor, the free living Exmoor pony herds are co-habiting with fertile non-Exmoor animals.
“Cross breeding is inevitable and some of the non-Exmoor stallions are larger and more dominant than the pure breeds.”
Chairman of the Exmoor Pony Society, David Brewer, said a combination of factors including poor fencing and gates not being closed could be making the problem worse.
He said: “At this moment in time, it is not an unsolvable problem. The national park and owners of individual herds need to work together and then it can all fall in to place.
“The Exmoor is a numerically small, rare breed and we are trying to preserve the integrity of the pure bred pony.”