RESIDENTS are saying “neigh” to plans to introduce Exmoor ponies at a beauty spot.
A consultation is under way to place the animals on Cleadon Hills nature reserve, next to Cleadon Village, for part of the year.
South Tyneside Council bosses believe that the ponies eating the grass will cut maintenance costs by a third and also help manage the area which is a site of Special Scientific Interest (SSI) because of its magnesian limestone geology.
But there were mixed views at a public meeting at Cleadon Village Primary School in Boldon Lane.
Conservative councillor Jeff Milburn, for Cleadon and East Boldon, said: “Like many of the residents, I have concerns about the wellbeing of the ponies.
“There’s often lots of rubbish left up there and at times people gather there to drink alcohol. Many feel it’s not a very practical idea.”
He added: “There must have been more than 100 people at the meeting which was good to see.
“The general consensus was that the introduction of ponies is, in principle, a good idea, but there are a lot of fears about their actual safety.
“I think it would benefit the area, as I understand we are one of only two sites in the country which have this magnesian limestone. It is important that it is preserved, but people are concerned about the safety of the animals.”
Exmoor ponies have been chosen as the most suitable type of animal to use because of the number of people who use the site.
They are shy animals and would move away from people.
Dog walkers would still be able to use the land, but they would have to keep their pets under control, and before the ponies were moved in, a water supply, holding pen and boundaries would also have to be put in place.
Coun Milburn thinks an alternative would be for the council to open up the land to nearby riding schools to help keep it maintained.
He said: “Part of the benefits of the Exmoor ponies was that they would also trample on the grass to keep it down.
“Why doesn’t the council, for a limited period of time, allow a number of horse owners onto the area?
“Obviously not to gallop about and cause damage, but if they trekked back and forth it would have the same effect.”
The consultation is running until December 19 and all views will be taken into consideration before a decision is made in the new year.”
The Echo reported last week how Hetton Bogs Local Nature Reserve on Wearside is using four semi-wild Exmoor ponies to help naturally manage the site through conservation grazing.
The ponies are being loaned to Sunderland City Council by Moorland Mousie Trust as part of a successful environmental management programme used elsewhere on moors and heathlands.