Ponies saved from Brexit death via pho­to­booth

Western Daily Press (Saturday) - - Riders -

THIS is the mo­ment Brexit reg­u­la­tions meant moor­land ponies posed in new pass­port photo booths - to avoid be­ing shot.

The an­nual ‘drift’, which sees all the sur­plus hill ponies on Dart­moor be­ing sold off, was held on Thurs­day for the first time since new rules around equine IDs were in­tro­duced.

The sale is held every year to keep the pop­u­la­tion within the num­bers legally al­lowed to graze the na­tional park in Devon.

But un­der new reg­u­la­tions, which only came into force last month, ponies that are sold now have to be is­sued with a full ID doc­u­ment be­fore they can go off to a new home.

This reg­u­la­tion ap­plies to the ge­net­i­cally rare semi-wild pony herds of Dart­moor which have been a cen­tral part of hill-farm­ing tra­di­tion and cul­ture for cen­turies.

Char­lotte Faulkner, who runs the Dart­moor Hill Pony As­so­ci­a­tion, said the new sys­tem was un­work­able and had ex­pressed fears that the 250 ponies that were not able to stay on the moor would have to shot.

But to avoid what she de­scribed as a ‘death sen­tence’ and with the help of an army of more than 50 vol­un­teers she came up with a novel idea to give the ponies a last minute re­prieve.

The process at the sale in Chag­ford, Devon, in­volved the ponies all be­ing mi­crochipped af­ter en­ter­ing the sales ring where all their de­tails were taken. They then went into a plas­tic photo booth where their pic­tures were taken on all four sides.

Vol­un­teers then took away the forms and had to draw a pic­ture of the pony us­ing a red and black pen just from the pho­to­graphs.

This was then scanned and sent to the pass­port is­su­ing author­ity in Sus­sex and a mini tem­po­rary pass­port was then is­sued for them on the day.

Char­lotte said that although they had found a way to meet the leg­is­la­tion this year, she said the process was un­sus­tain­able mov­ing for­ward.

She said: “This is an idea we had for this year to try and ful­fill the new leg­is­la­tion - oth­er­wise they would have had to be shot.

“We have to en­sure full trace­abil­ity and to­day we have had to in­vent a photo booth for ponies.

“The dif­fer­ence from pre­vi­ous years is we did not have to is­sue ev­ery­thing on the day of the sale.

“But this photo booth idea is not sus­tain­able. The vol­un­teers have been fan­tas­tic and they re­ally care about the ponies but it is a lot to ask from them. They know what is im­por­tant and th­ese ponies are such a vi­tal part of our cul­ture.

“We should be look­ing af­ter them and cher­ish­ing them, not throw­ing them in with ev­ery­thing else.

“We have also had to raise £3000 to pay for the photo booth. It is ridicu­lous.”

Char­lotte said the EU reg­u­la­tions for ‘horse pass­ports’ had been rewrit­ten and in­tro­duced into law as part of prepa­ra­tions for Brexit.

This re­quired that for a foal sold in the auc­tion pen must be fully pass- ported be­fore it has fin­ished walk­ing across the field and into the new owner’s trans­port.

She added: “The gov­ern­ment never con­sulted any of us and they have cre­ated a sys­tem that is un­work­able.

“For this year, we have come up with a unique sys­tem that might just pull us through but it is not a sus­tain- able so­lu­tion and is a costly and dif­fi­cult lo­gis­ti­cally..

“It is work­ing amaz­ingly well but we have needed 50 vol­un­teers to make it hap­pen and we are not pay­ing any­one apart from the vet.

“We have sold around 250 to­day, which is a nor­mal num­ber for the drift and they have been snapped up from peo­ple all over the coun­try who have been able to get them homes away from the moor. But De­fra have got to recog­nise we are not deal­ing with do­mes­tic an­i­mals here - they are semi wild and should be treated dif­fer­ently. We don’t have enough vets to be able to go around all the farms and draw a pic­ture in red and black pen in the pour­ing rain.

“All we have come up with is a pi­lot pass­port scheme to ful­fill the leg­is­la­tion.

“It is a very phys­i­cal task, we are not in an of­fice and are out in the mid­dle of the field with no elec­tric­ity or in­ter­net.

“Yet they are ex­pect­ing mir­a­cles from us.”

Ms Faulkner said she has been bat­tling the is­sue for sev­eral years but said that un­til re­cently no one would hold a mean­ing­ful dis­cus­sion.

She added: “The iconic hill ponies of Dart­moor – sci­en­tif­i­cally proven to be unique and rare – will dis­ap­pear from the moors be­cause the gov­ern­ment is is­su­ing new leg­is­la­tion which will sign their death sen­tence as im­pos­si­ble to ful­fill for semi wild ponies.

“This is no ex­ag­ger­a­tion: th­ese herds have sur­vived the Ice Age, the ad­vent of farm­ing in the Bronze Age, Ro­man in­va­sion, civil war, but can not sur­vive De­fra bu­reau­cracy and er­rors.”

De­fra de­nied that the new reg­u­la­tions would be a death sen­tence for the ponies. A spokesper­son said. “We have worked closely with those im­pacted by th­ese new reg­u­la­tions to en­sure a smooth tran­si­tion. It is now for those re­spon­si­ble for the ponies to de­cide the ap­proach that best meets their needs while also com­ply­ing with the min­i­mum re­quire­ments.”

A pony be­ing moved to an­other hold­ing may be moved on a pass­port and with a rump sticker, De­fra said. A mi­crochip must then be ar­ranged within 30 days of ar­rival and the an­i­mal must not be moved again un­til mi­crochipped.

The gov­ern­ment have cre­ated a sys­tem that is

un­work­able CHAR­LOTTE FAULKNER

The an­nual ‘drift’, which sees all the sur­plus hill ponies on Dart­moor be­ing sold off, was held on Thurs­day for the first time since new rules around equine IDs were in­tro­duced

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