• Christine Keate

Exmoor ponies take part in important conservation study

A herd of Exmoor ponies, classified by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust as endangered, has been introduced to the University of Glasgow’s Cochno Farm.

Four mares one with a foal at foot and a stallion, were first introduced in November 2020 and are being used in research into Exmoor pony conservation and rewilding. Since their arrival two more filly foals have been born this year, both are valuable, new additions to the endangered Exmoor pony population and, are growing and developing well.

The ponies are being studied and monitored by a team of researchers at the University of Glasgow and are the subject of Debbie Davy’s PhD, which is funded by the Exmoor Pony Society as part of their centenary celebrations. The ponies will also be used in a project studying the relationships between microbial communities and animal health.

Following a severe genetic bottleneck after the Second World War, the current Exmoor pony population is descended from fewer than fifty foundation animals. Their selective grazing habits have led to their widespread use as conservation grazers on many sites in Britain and Europe, where they are believed to help control invasive plant species, improve biodiversity and contribute to the overall health of the ecosystems they inhabit.

Debbie has been breeding Exmoor ponies in the Highlands since 1982 and, is undertaking this project to investigate whether considering genetic variation could improve breeding management practices and, to better understand the impacts of pony grazing on habitat quality and plant diversity. She said: “Since their arrival the ponies have been attracting lots of positive attention from Cochno visitors, and the herd is now being used in other student projects.

“It’s such a pleasure to work with these important endangered animals and I hope our work here will help us to gain a better understanding of this important breed.”


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