A CONTROVERSIAL plan to allow wild ponies to roam a beauty spot in South Tyneside could get the go-ahead in the New Year.
South Tyneside Council’s Cabinet will consider a plan to use Exmoor ponies as a way of maintaining Cleadon Hills site 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.
The plans have been opposed by a number of Cleadon residents, including Coun Jeff Milburn, the Conservative representative for the Cleadon and East Boldon ward.
He said: “It’s just not a practical idea. The ponies would be in danger. People go up there with air rifles and crossbows.
“Young people drink up there as well, and leave cans and bottles lying around which isn’t good for the ponies either.
“It’s also a big problem for dog owners. Cleadon Hills is one of the only places in the borough where you can let your dog off the lead and let them run around.
“All it would take is for one of the dogs or the ponies to take a dislike to each other and we’d have a serious problem – it’s just a fanciful idea.
“Even local people who own horses think it’s a ridiculous idea.”
South Tyneside 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.
The council’s Cabinet will be asked to make a decision on the future management of the Local Nature Reserve when they meet at South Shields Town Hall on Wednesday, January 7.
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.