Cleadon munch bunch won’t let the grass grow under their feet

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COUNCIL bosses are hoping new grass-cutting plans will cost them a pony – an Exmoor pony.

South Tyneside Council wants to put the animals on Cleadon Hills Local Nature Reserve, next to Cleadon Village, to eat the grass in a bid to help them beat the credit munch.

The local authority has to make savings of £35million during this financial year and the pony plans will cut down maintenance costs by a third.

Cleadon Hills is a Site of Special Scientific Interest for its magnesian limestone and South Tyneside Council has a statutory duty to manage it.

The council’s countryside team’s plans would be more cost effective as the ponies would eat the grass, gorse brambles and thistles during the winter months.

A farmer is hired to cut half the land in the summer, while a specialist contractor trims a further 40 per cent in the autumn.

A South Tyneside Council spokesman said: “If conservation grazing is introduced, grazing animals would only be present on the site for part of the year.

“It has been proposed that initially, Exmoor ponies would be the most suitable type of animal to use, due to the high public usage of the site. Exmoor ponies are shy of people and would quietly move away from site users.

“Financially, the cost of grazing the site each year would be approximately one third of the current costs of cutting and raking off, making this a more financially sustainable way to manage the site.”

Dog walkers would also still be able to use the land, but they would have to keep their pets under control.

Before the ponies moved in, a water supply, holding pen and boundaries would also have to be put in place.

Both Sunderland and Gateshead Councils have operated similar schemes for many years at sites including Hetton Bogs and Lamesley Pastures.

The public would also be able to get involved by keeping a watchful eye over the ponies as a volunteer “looker”.

The plans will be discussed at a public meeting on Thursday at Cleadon Village Primary School in Boldon Lane, from 7pm.