In Danger, The British Horses Losing Out To Foreign Breeds: Native Species Brought Together To Highlight Their Struggle After Numbers Of Some Dropped By A Fifth Last Year.
.Rare Breeds Survival Trust says 12 out of 14 native horse and pony breeds are at risk, and five are ‘critical’
.Native breeds now make up just one per cent of Britain’s 1.4million horses, despite general population rise
.Dartmoor and Exmoor ponies are listed as ‘endangered’, meaning they have fewer than 500 breeding females
.Trust is now encouraging horse lovers to do their bit and ‘buy British’ to help replenish their falling numbers
We marvel at them as we traipse across the moors and fells of Britain.
But experts warn the country’s native horse breeds are in danger of dying out – while those from abroad thrive.
The wild ponies of Dartmoor and Exmoor and larger breeds such as the Suffolk Punch and Clydesdale are all under threat after their population fell by a fifth last year.
The Rare Breeds Survival Trust said 12 out of 14 of the UK’s native horse and pony breeds are at risk with five classed as ‘critical’. To ensure the horses do not become extinct the trust is creating a ‘gene bank’.
But it is also urging horse lovers to do their bit to save the ancient creatures and ‘buy British’. The 12 rare British breeds now make up just 1 per cent of the country’s 1.4million horses – 14,000.
They are listed as critical when there is estimated to be fewer than 300 breeding females. Dartmoor and Exmoor ponies are listed as ‘endangered’, meaning they have fewer than 500 breeding females. If the female population of a breed drops to below 50, there is a strong chance it will become extinct.
In total across all 12 rare breeds, just 918 female births were recorded last year.
Britain’s horse population has grown hugely in recent years. However, native breeds have lost out to those of other countries, particularly from Poland, as nature reserves have bought breeds such as Konik ponies to graze their land.
Tom Beeston, from the RBST, said: ‘Man has lived with horses for 20,000-plus years and looked after them for a good reason. It’s only in the last 100 years we haven’t needed them. But people are riding horses now more than ever.
‘However, it’s populations of the wrong ponies that are increasing.
‘Nature reserves are meant to be protecting wildlife and biodiversity, but many are using Polish ponies to graze, instead of the traditional breeds.’
Eriskay ponies – which are native to the remote island of Eriskay in the Western Isles of Scotland – are one of the most critical. Figures are only available for Eriskays living on the mainland, but just five female births were registered last year.
The Suffolk Punch, the oldest breed of heavy horse, capable of working long periods without a break, had just 12. The RBST is building a gene bank, collecting stallion semen from all the rare breeds in case they are wiped out. But the process is slow going and expensive.
Mr Beeston said: ‘Eriskay, Dales and Exmoors are fantastic for conservation and grazing nature reserves, Dartmoors are also fantastic for that work and they’re nice ponies for youngsters to ride.
‘They shouldn’t be overlooked.’