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  • Harriet Bell

Presentation on ponies from Joss Hibbs

On the 22nd of October Joss Hibbs gave a presentation to the Advisory Team on her work relating to the management of ponies on Dartmoor.


Documents circulated by Joss ahead of the meeting:

Doc 1 Agric Bill financial assistance
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Download PD • 438KB
Doc 2 Defra confirmation of inclusion of
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Download • 1.70MB
Doc3 RPA FOI response re NBAR Ref_ RFI 5
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Download • 121KB
Doc4 DNPA&NE past pony payment schemes
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Download P • 132KB
Doc5 Draft Contract
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Download PDF • 68KB

Notes from the meeting starting with Joss Hibbs' talk and followed by Q&A:


"I’d like to give you some information to put into your discussion pot relating to financial support for native livestock and equines.

I’d like to point to the documents I’ve circulated. The first one relating to the first chapter of the agriculture bill which is currently finishing its journey through Parliament. The purpose of the beginning of the bill is to list the things Defra will pay you for and from this list will flow the things Defra will pay you for.

I would just like to point to paragraph 1g, it states ‘The Secretary of State may give financial assistance for in connection with… conserving native livestock, native equines or genetic resources relating to any such animal’

In paragraph c it also talks about managing land and water in a way which maintains or restores cultural and natural heritage and in f it talks about protecting or improving the health or welfare of livestock.

The one I really want to talk about is g native stock and livestock.

Defra have confirmed that for the first time the semi-wild native hill pony will be included in support along with the Dartmoor breed.

The Telegraph article written in response to the latest genetic work that’s been done it says “A Defra spokesperson said: ‘Dartmoor hill ponies are an important part of the cultural heritage of the area and we are supportive of the conservation benefits they can bring through appropriate grazing. That is why our Agricultural Bill has the powers to support the conservation of native equines, including Dartmoor Hill Ponies, and we will be considering how they can be implemented.”

There’s also a letter of confirmation to Mel and a letter from 2018 which references including this in Dartmoor ELM Test and Trial.

Support for native equines may possibly be included in ELM, maybe not. This has received support politically. I sent a video link of the House of Lords debate where Lord Gardiner of Kimble confirms Defra is wedded to this commitment. We’ve also received a lot of support from the senior team at NE.

So then the question arises what should this financial support look like and there’s been a lot of discussion since 2015 with about 150 commoners, including those who don’t keep pony herds, the pony working group and also the committee of the Dartmoor Hill Pony Association. Just for the record I’ve come across a lot of confusion with regards to what the Dartmoor Hill Farm Pony Association is, it is a subscription membership of commoners using their rights to graze ponies on the common representing all four quarters and both types of ponies.

We looked at what’s gone before. The native breed at risk supplement, there’s an FOI response from the RPA and we asked how much money has been paid for the Dartmoor pony in Devon and the UK, we were surprised to get the answer they don’t know. So they don’t know how much more pony breed or where they’ve spent it and we thought the scheme going forward could improve on that. We also looked at local schemes supported by NE and DNPA, they’ve only supported one type of pony and we thought they could improve on that. We supported that a lot of the money is lost between NE or DNPA paying it and the farmer. From 2004 there’s been an investment of £173,000 for one type of pony of which £30,000 went to farmers, we can improve on that.

Last of all we looked at other reasons for financial support for ponies. As a result of all that information we came up with a pony keepers grazing scheme contract, we’re now on draft 5. The purpose of the contract is to commit to, in return for receiving financial support, a farmer commits to doing certain things and in them committing to that Defra get more for their money, best practice herd management for high animal welfare and culture and heritage related to pony keeping on the commons. If people don’t do all of those things then there is the opportunity to penalise. In this contract it’s budgeted that 80% financial support goes to farmer and 20% is held centrally providing for things like microchipping but also marketing and sales because one of the concerns that’s been voiced loud and clear is that these ponies have to be sold for a profit. I’d like to give a nod to Charlotte for the work and outcomes of the last pony sale. All of which is resourced by Charlotte’s charity.

The last piece of paper is from Defra’s state aid unit to confirm that contract complies with state aid rules. [As this document contains a disclaimer that it is not to be forwarded or published without permission we have not included it with these notes.]

I’d like to throw some questions in for ELM test and trial to consider. This is a proposal for native equine support. Does this test and trial give the opportunity to illustrate how you’d like support for native livestock to look?

Native livestock and equines are a tool of grazing and my understanding of ELM is that farmers decide the number and types of animals required to receive outcomes and outcomes are what payment is made for. So how do you balance your decisions about what you’re going to graze and when and being paid for keeping native animals as well, is there a conflict?

How could this proposed financial support for native equines fit into your bigger picture?"

Q: As we’re talking about native and rare breeds and I know Chris Price [Chief Executive of the Rare Breed Survival Trust] has done a lot of work on this. In the initial pony thing they weren’t allowing geldings because it wasn’t a native breed so when we’re keeping native breeds and sheep obviously we’re going to be keeping geldings but that’s now still a grazing animal.

A: The main support for native breed is genetic so whereas grazing mouths might count for grazing, geldings don’t for genetics.

  • Obviously it’s down to economics at the end of the day but I still think we’re going to be getting advice about what to graze and how and I would hope the pony comes into that in it’s own right.

Q: I think it’s really helpful having your presentation on were you’ve got to. I think we have a general concern about the availability of funding and where it’s coming from. Species, we ultimately will have some form of priority within whatever evolves but so will questions and what is native? Native to Dartmoor, the UK, Europe? At the end of the day all animals are native to somewhere, who makes that decisions, who administers it and then do we get another raft of expensive individuals running around the countryside?

A: My understanding is Defra decide what is native, they hold a magic list and it’s the type of cattle, sheep and ponies on that list that attracts money. The question of where is that money coming from is a much higher echelon than me. The idea of native, I would ask do you get paid more for keeping native Dartmoor breeds on Dartmoor or do you get paid the same amount if you have Exmoor ponies on Dartmoor? I do know that the breeds are listed by that one group in Defra and the RBST does sit on that, along with Aberystwyth. We do have some friends on that committee and have benefited from that but we do have an awful lot more questions to ask and I kind of think that’s what you guys are doing I hope.

Q: So if, for example, Shetlands are on the list, why wouldn’t we bus in loads of those for maximum return on payments?

A: In the contract that’s been designed by Commoners for Dartmoor that would limit payment to the Dartmoor that would be the Dartmoor Pony and the Dartmoor Hill Pony. Having said that I do know there’s a massive worldwide genetic equine study which concludes that every equine, bar about 5, have got Arab in them because this is what the Victorian’s did, improving breeds with the Arabs we liked. There’s a handful without Arab including the Shetland.

Q: What is your plan for progressing this contract?

A: It’s with the Defra ELM team but it’s one piece of a bigger picture and it’s got to fit in with the whole of your test and trial, my wish would be you could consider this and see how it could dovetail with what your doing as a whole. It’s gone as far as it can on its own.

Q: Are these ponies graded now? They used to be are they still?

A: My understanding there are stallion inspections. As to what is a Dartmoor Hill Pony we’re piloting a genetic test so that you can confirm they’re the type of animal you’re trying to support. They’re not graded by appearance because of their genetic uniqueness relating to their rare genetics for surviving at altitude in a harsh climate, they’re not selected for appearance but for survival.

Q: I want to ask, do these native animals need to be pedigree because I know at one point they did to get payment? I don’t know what that situation is.

A: If you have a pedigree breed like the Dartmoor pony, with a known family tree, that is how a breed works. The Dartmoor Hill Pony is not a breed, it’s semi-wild, it does not have a stud book, so for the first time Defra are including semi-wild, they have to survive naturally and breed naturally.

Q: So that’s happening for the ponies which is brilliant but for cattle and sheep I’m assuming they’d still need to be pedigree to receive support?

A: Honest answer I don’t know, I don’t know of any semi-wild cattle and sheep. So my, limited understanding, and I would defer to the RBST, I believe it’s still breed but if semi-wild still exists for livestock they’d be open to it.

  • An awful lot of people keep animals that aren’t pedigree who would slip through the net for payment.

Q: Leading on from the previous point the native breeds and the pedigree one example is the North Devon is on the list, the South Devon isn’t so there are examples of people giving up on South Devons and switching to North for the payment. Leading onto the derogation, how do you see it with our registered Dartmoor ponies they’re passported and microchipped so they can be identified on a list of what’s grazing where they’re supposed to be, are you still intending to use the derogation?

A: In the contract that has been pulled up, not a move to passport because it’s disappearing but microchipping is included in the contract for ponies in this scheme, so farmers receiving payment would be required to microchip.

Q: So does that not get rid of the derogation because the pony has a chip and there’s a record?

A: Yes but the scheme is optional, you don’t have to receive payment if you don’t want one so you can’t get rid of the derogation completely. That’s why you need the central pot to safeguard the financial support to the farmer for entering ponies into the scheme.

Q: This group have talked about having a Dartmoor board which sets specific local objectives and takes on responsibility for managing ELM on the common. Do you guys see ponies as something which gets managed at that board level or do you think it should be something where support is set and structured through the central ELM scheme?

A: From the people I’ve spoken to about this one particular issue, this is very specific to Dartmoor and would work well, another region would work differently and would want to do it differently. I don’t know if there are many herds in the North West. My view is that it would work best, and I believe that ELM is trying to move away from a central govt. dictate, about how you want to provide financial support for native equines should be designed and should be managed and administered by Dartmoor. In the contract it says you should keep to the rules of the Dartmoor Commoner’s Council. With regards to should the money be administered by some Dartmoor board my question is how much they should be paid? This contract suggests a constituted body of farmer’s who keep ponies manage the pot.

Q: I don’t keep ponies but I’ve been assisting with pony drifts. I’m pleased to see your contract but how do we tidy up the mess we’ve got out there at the moment because they’re going to confuse the issue if we’re going to bring in a pony contract?

A: It’s up to commoners. This contract tries to support that work so having this contract does give you a vehicle by which to be able to do just that. Plus, those ponies that nobody wants suddenly they might. Enhancing work at market and sale, more and more you’re not going to have a problem of ponies that people don’t want because they’re worth something.

Q: That’s a very good point, it’s a pity they’ve become the poor relation of the species we keep on Dartmoor but I worry, you listed the schemes we’ve had, the first one there was a rush to by fillies at 50p each and turn them into mares for £50 a head and then when the money got stopped they were left out there.

J – The contract has thought of that, by capping the payment so you can only be paid a financial maximum so they did think of that and put it in for that very reason.

Q: Following on from the previous point about pedigrees they do have to be at a registration book somewhere and my thought is if that it’s no longer the case for ponies then it will have to apply for cattle and sheep also. Also, Defra are not supporting food production, so I know it’s a small amount of the market but are you concerned that if ponies are used for food production it could impact on their support?

J – We had to do a cost of production calculation for ponies so Defra knows that there is some food production from ponies.



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