Alien Invasion?

A little historical compare and contrast. Fascinating how the words “extinction” and “hardiness” keep echoing through.

This from the BBC’s website on the 10th March, 2011:

Dartmoor ponies ‘extinction fears’ over hardiness gene

Conservationists are concerned the Dartmoor hill pony could be in danger of becoming extinct.

Numbers have dropped from about 30,000 at the beginning of the century to just 1,500 in 2011.

The Dartmoor Hill Pony Association said if numbers continued to fall, the breed would be in danger of losing its hardiness to survive on the moor.

Many farmers said numbers were falling because younger generations did not want to take them on.

The Association’s Charlotte Faulkner told BBC News: “If they lose that hardiness to survive, then we’ll never get it back.”

Dartmoor National Park Authority’s Robert Steemson said: “The ponies are very important as a conservation management tool.

“They are incredibly important for the biodiversity of the landscape.”

He said the animals helped to shape the moor by feeding on the vegetation.

This from The Times, June 6th 1951:

Alien Dartmoor Ponies

TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES

Sir,

A silent revolution has been taking place on the Dartmoor hills, with results for which a less myopic and preoccupied generation than our own may hold us heavily to blame. Fifty years ago thousands of true-bred Dartmoor ponies roamed the moor. They were as much a part of its natural character and native fauna as the badger and the fox, and famous alike as its ornament and its pride. To-day the true breed has been all but driven from the open moor to survive only in the private paddocks of a few enlightened individuals; on the moor itself it is now overwhelmingly outnumbered by a horde of cross-breds, deliberately introduced by the irresponsible commercialism of some pony-owners – piebalds and skewbalds to supply a “fancy” market, Shetlands to breed a short-legged race that will “sell better for pit ponies,” and a larger carthorse strain, profitable as horse meat but resulting in clumsy, hairy-hoofed hybrids painful to behold. Not only does this mongrel infusion debase the character and appearance of Dartmoor’s pony population; it also weakens and undermines its stamina. The true breed can forage for itself on the moor whatever the weather in all but exceptional winters, as it has done since prehistoric times. Hybrid ponies are, of course, cruelly handicapped by the dilution of this hardy quality.

Local cupidity is certainly one agent responsible for this disappearance of the true Dartmoor poniy from its native hills, but official apathy is even more to blame. Time and again the Dartmoor Pony Society, of which Miss Calmady-Hamlyn is the moving spirit – and without whose tireless efforts the original breed might well by now have become extinct – has pressed for legislation to prevent the deliberate introduction of alien pony stock; members of Parliament have been sympathetic and regretful, but ultimately inactive. Officials of the Duchy of Cornwall (by far the largest Dartmoor landowner) have failed to set the example they should by reviving the periodic “drifts,” through which alone a check can be kept on inferior stallions, and cross-breds gelded or weeded out; nor, apparently, will they face the trouble and unpopularity that a really firm anti-mongrel policy might bring.

The Dartmoor sub-committee of the county council, though repeatedly asked for its cooperation, takes the line that the ponies are an “agricultural” matter and must be dealt with by the county agricultural organization – manifest nonsense, since the natural fauna of an area are not “agricultural,” but a useful evasion of action or responsibility. And as Dartmoor is not yet a national park (but one an unconscionable time a-making) it is of no avail as yet to appeal to the National Parks Commission. So far the official policy has been that it is somebody else’s business, coupled with an incredible fogginess as to the facts. A day or two ago the Dartmoor Pony Society received an official inquiry as to whether it would favour the licensing of Shetland stallions at large on Dartmoor! Such monumental asininity is hard indeed to condone. The Dartmoor Preservation Association stands shoulder to shoulder with the Dartmoor Pony Society in its gallant but losing fight against local commercialism and official indifference. Voluntary societies have only one effective weapon – public opinion: this is not easy to arouse, and may be fully aroused too late. Are our legislators so lost in dollar-earning or skin-saving preoccupations that they are uminterested in the maintenance of standards of quality, hardiness, and beauty where these still tenuously survive ? It may be a complicated and uphill task now to reinstate the true Dartmoor porny on its native moors; that is the outcome of years of official inertia. It should certainly not be made the excuse for further Parliamentary inaction at this eleventh hour.

Yours faithfilly,

SYLVIA SAYER.

Chairman, Dartmoor Preservation Association, Old Middle Cator, Widecombe-in-the-Moor, Devon.

And The Times, September 8th, 1928

The Dartmoor Pony. (FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT.) PLYMOUTH, SEPT. 7. The Dartmoor pony seems to be in danger of extinction. That is the lesson of Princetown Fair, which was held on Tuesday, when the total number of these attractive little animals offered for sale did not exceed 100. In former times a brisk demand for Dartmoor ponies would bring 300 or 400 of them into the ring at Princetown alone, while at other Devon fairs sales at good prices were always to be depended upon. The place which the Dartmoor pony now occupies in the scheme of a world in which petrol and electricity provide the motive force is sufficiently indicated by the low prices at which they change hands. Animals which used to fetch £30 or £40 were sold at Princetown for a tenth of these sums, and ponies of poor strain could be purchased for 10s. each. Throughout the present year dealers from London, Bristol, and elsewhere have been in Devonshire organizing round-ups of ponies, and farmers have been glad to get rid of their stocks at £1 or 30s. apiece. A number of these ponies have been shipped to Ireland, to take the place of the donkeys that are gradually dying out. In happier times the ponies would have been bought locally for use between the shafts of a jingle. One of the causes of the dying-out of the Dartmoor pony is the careless introduction some years ago, of undesirable strains. This had the effect of producing a weaker and less reliable type not so well fitted to withstand the hardships of the life they are obliged to live on the bleak moorland wastes during the winter, and a large number of ponies, which would have survived had they been of the true Dartmoor breed, perished last winter. Comparatively few pure-bred ponies now remain on Dartmoor, and the moorland herds have never been at such a low ebb. Attempts are being made at the Prince of Wales’s stud farm at Princetown to improve matters by placing true-to-type stallions on the moor. Experiments are also being made in mixing the blood of the Dartmoor pony with that of the Arab, with a view to producing a good type of polo pony combining the Arab’s speed with the Dartmoor hardihood. It is possible to produce such ponies of from 13 to 15 hands.

UPDATE: Catch Open Country’s report on Radio 4 here.

4 thoughts on “Alien Invasion?

  1. Pingback: Alien Invasion? « If Wishes Were Ponies | Horse Sports Expert

  2. Pingback: Historical pionies | AddaPost

  3. Pingback: The Pony Cull « If Wishes Were Ponies

  4. Pingback: The Old Story of the End of Ponies on Dartmoor | If Wishes Were Horses

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