A PLAN which will see wild ponies roaming a South Tyne side beauty spot is set to be given the go-ahead this week.
South Tyneside Council’s decision-making cabinet is set to approve a plan on Wednesday to use Exmoor ponies as a way of maintaining Cleadon Hills through conservation grazing.
Council bosses say ponies are a more effective site management option than cutting the grass and that it would have greater benefits for wildlife in the area.
The conservation grazing scheme is being considered as part of the Cleadon Hills Local Nature Reserve Management Plan, which sets out proposals for the effective management of all aspects of the site, including grasslands, scrub and hedgerow management and visitor facilities.
However, the initiative has been opposed by a number of Cleadon residents, including Coun Jeff Milburn, the Conservative representative for the Cleadon and East Boldon ward.
He said: “Introducing ponies to Cleadon Hills is not a good idea and it’s not just me who thinks that.
“Youngsters often drink up there and leave cans and bottles strewn all over, which could be dangerous for the animals.
“Plus it’s also a big problem for dog owners – the hills are one of the few places with dogs can be let off the lead.
“All it’s going to take is for a dog or a pony, to dislike each other, or get spooked, and then there will be chaos.
“I don’t think this idea is very sensible at all.”
The council believes conservation grazing to be the most effective method of managing the reserve, in addition to carrying out an annual haycut of the grass.
It is proposing to explore the option of managing the site using Exmoor ponies for a trial period.
Coun Tracey Dixon, cabinet member for area management and community safety, said: “Cleadon Hills Local Nature Reserve is a very popular site used by many people. It is also a site of special scientific interest (SSSI), which must be preserved and protected for the future.
“We know that historically the land was grazed by animals – a process which is proven to help the flowers and land to flourish. It has also been beneficial in other parts of the region.
“In the absence of grazing, Cleadon Hills would need a more intensive cutting regime than it currently receives to restore and maintain the species-rich grassland.
“The council’s Cabinet is recommended to agree that the scheme goes ahead on a trial basis and that there is regular monitoring of the welfare of the horses, dog walkers and other users of Cleadon Hills as well as the effectiveness of the grazing programme.”
The proposals were considered by the council’s Place Select Committee, which visited a site in Gateshead where a similar scheme had been operating for a number of years.
The report to Cabinet recommends that a conservation grazing trial is approved to run from either January to April or from November, over the winter months to April 2016.
If agreed, the proposed trial would run across two years to give time to gauge whether it would be a viable management option for the longer term.