An expert trying to manage the population of an iconic British pony has come up with an unpalatable solution – EATING them.
Ponies have been grazing on the green pastures of Exmoor National Park in Devon and Somerset since prehistoric times.
But a new report says their numbers are soaring because so many unwanted animals are being dumped on the moorland by hard-up owners.
Vet and leading equine expert Peter Green warns the interlopers are muscling in on the grazing sites and endangering the indigenous pure-bred ponies.
He says one possible solution is to eliminate many of the unwanted, abandoned newcomers by slaughtering and selling their meat to local hotels and restaurants.
Mr Green disclosed the shocking proposal in his conservation paper, ‘The free-living ponies within the Exmoor National Park: their status, welfare and future’.
He admitted some landowners were appalled by the idea of putting pony on the dinner table – but said others were supportive.
In the new report, he says: “Several contributors, including moorland herd owners, society committee members and others expressed the view that the British aversion to eating horsemeat was both illogical and unhelpful to the free-living Exmoor ponies.
“As there is so limited a market for ridden ponies, show ponies and conservation grazers, why not promote the free-living Exmoor ponies as a food animal as much as an amenity or aesthetic resource?”.
Mr Green’s report was commissioned by various conservation groups including the Exmoor National Park Authority and the Exmoor Pony Society (EPS).
Pure-bred Exmoor ponies are officially “endangered” and experts agree something needs to be done to protect the remaining 500 or so.
They are fast being outnumbered by unwanted horses and ponies who are cross-breeding with the natives and moving in on their grazing sites.
Under Mr Green’s plan the excess animals would be slaughtered, processed and inspected at EU approved abattoirs in line with red meat regulations before entering the food chain.
He cautions that this is just one of several possible solutions – but it is nonetheless a viable one that enjoys a degree of local support.
He says in his 72-page research document: “This suggestion divided moorland herd owners strongly, with some very firm and impassioned opposition to any such suggestion.
“Five moorland herd owners were horrified but eight, mainly livestock farmers, were strongly in favour of marketing the pony meat to local restaurants, hotels and butchers.”
Two dozen farmers, landowners and other parties with links to Exmoor met to to discuss the idea and to form a new action group.
Some EPS committee members are understood to be supportive of the plan but others have warned it could put off tourists visiting Exmoor to stroke and ride the famous animals.
Mr Green has since defended the proposal saying he included it because it was a viable suggestion put forward by locals.
He says his aim is merely to protect the indigenous ponies so they can run free and prosper on Exmoor for years to come.
Mr Green said: “I’ve included the idea of promoting a local meat market because it’s been suggested by some of the moorland breeders and it would have been disingenuous not to.”
At the height of this year’s horsemeat scandal it emerged that ponies killed at a Yorkshire slaughterhouse may have made it into doner kebabs.
Princess Ann provoked an animal rights backlash last month after urging Britons to consider eating horsemeat like they do in many other countries.
She said the trade in horsemeat could boost welfare standards by giving horses a financial value but Animal Aid warned it would not stop them being mistreated.