Visitors to a South Tyneside Local Nature Reserve are being asked to avoid feeding the ponies that graze the land.
South Tyneside Council is currently implementing the second part of a conservation grazing trial which involves using Exmoor ponies to help preserve and protect the species-rich grass land at Cleadon Hills for future generations to enjoy.
The three mares, Maggie, Meg and Harebell were joined by gelding, Kylestrome, when they returned to the site for the winter period. They have settled in well and are busy doing their job eating the vegetation.
However the council is appealing for people not to feed the ponies after it has come to light that some visitors to the site are providing the animals with food.
Coun Tracey Dixon, lead member for area management and community safety, said: “We were delighted to see the return of the ponies. They had been very well received by the public when they first came to the site around a year ago and are a welcome addition to what is a beautiful landscape offering stunning views across South Tyneside.
“It would appear that the scheme is progressing well with improved vegetation in parts of the site not to mention the increase in visitors to the area. However we are concerned that the ponies are occasionally approaching visitors, particularly those carrying plastic bags, in the hope of food. This is most likely because they have been fed before.
“It is important that visitors do not feed the ponies as this will not only detract from the aim of the scheme of them eating the vegetation, but could led to them being taken off the site due to them becoming a nuisance by following people for food.
“We would encourage people to adhere to the signage asking people not to feed the ponies. They can still be enjoyed as they graze the land, but preferably from a distance.”
Coun Dixon added: “We would like to reassure people that the ponies get plenty of food from the land. No supplementary food is necessary. As they are equipped to tackle a wide range of vegetation, they are an excellent breed for conservation grazing schemes like the one in South Tyneside and others running successfully in other parts of the country.”
Cleadon Hills Local Nature Reserve is popular site for nature lovers. It is also a site of special scientific interest (SSSI), which needs to be protected.
The land was historically grazed by animals – a process that has been proven to enable flowers and land to flourish.
In January, last year, South Tyneside Council’s Cabinet members agreed to implement a two-year conservation grazing trial as it is considered a more effective site management option than grass cutting. This is because it produces a more diverse environmental result that has greater benefits for invertebrates, ground nesting birds and floral diversity.
The ponies are expected to remain on the land until Easter. The council will then review the trial to consider whether conservation grazing is a viable long term management option for Cleadon Hills Local Nature Reserve.
Feedback on the scheme is welcome. To express a view, contact Clare Rawcliffe, Countryside Officer, on 0191 424 7423 or email firstname.lastname@example.org