No easy task you might think, and you’d be right. Most of us who love Dartmoor also love to see the ponies, walk our dogs, enjoy watching lambs playing and listening to the sometimes incredible birdsong. I can’t be the only one who gets chills hearing Skylarks or strains to hear the first Cuckoo of the year!
On the whole, livestock, wildlife, people and pets get along quite nicely together, with a bit of thought and caring. But from time to time, and instances seem to be on the increase, we humans don’t always get it right for the animals.
Feeding Ponies – So tempting, but please don’t do it
Often it’s simply a case of misunderstanding. If you’re a first time visitor to Dartmoor, it may not be obvious that by feeding the ponies who to have a tendency to gather in the car parks you may do them great harm.
They are evolved over thousands of years to be grazing animals, so our leftover sandwiches, ice cream, grass clippings (or even the carrots that our domesticated ponies learn to love) can cause very serious stomach problems for these wild living equines. Feeding (and petting) them is also a major factor in attracting them to the roadside and car parks, more of which next!
Ponies on the road – Please take great care
Driving across Dartmoor, especially in the dark or in bad weather can be fraught with danger unless you drive with great care. Dark coloured ponies especially, are extremely difficult to see when they are stood on a moorland road with no street lights! The foals in particular have a habit of running across the road without warning to get back to their mum when an approaching car startles them.
The speed limit is 40 miles an hour, but that’s very often much too fast, and appalling, horrific accidents happen when vehicle meets pony.
Dogs on Dartmoor
As a dog owner myself, I fully understand the joy of a day spent on the moor with my canine friends. I’m lucky that I spent much of my early childhood on the moor, and then many, many years as a farmer’s wife raising livestock so I have always understood the potential conflict between dogs and livestock or wildlife.
Dartmoor is extremely beautiful, with miles and miles of open space, but it is not a wilderness, it’s a working landscape where livestock farming needs to co-exist hand in hand with tourism. Without the sheep, ponies and cattle grazing alongside each other and keeping the commons accessible, no one would be able to get onto the moor at all.
We need to make sure that these farmed animals as well as the wildlife and birds, are protected from ourselves and our dogs. Simple measures like ensuring your dog is very well trained, and kept under close control are essential.
During ground nesting season and lambing time, it is advised that your dogs are on leads between the beginning of March to the end of July – www.dartmoor.gov.uk/enjoy-dartmoor/planning-your-visit/visiting-with-your-dog
A tragic and frustrating truth is that dog attacks on sheep and lambs are on the increase. I’ve witnessed it many heart-breaking times myself and every single time when I eventually catch up with the owner they have said they thought their dog was ‘only playing’ or ‘didn’t mean any harm’. They are often very shocked and distressed about it, and it’s a hard way to learn the lesson, but even harder for the sheep and the farmer. The answer is so simple, keep dogs under very close control or keep them on a lead.
Dog owners are very familiar with having to dispose of dog poo! When those dogs are on Dartmoor, it still needs to be done, and Dartmoor National Park has this advice – www.dartmoor.gov.uk/enjoy-dartmoor/planning-your-visit/visiting-with-your-dog
It may not be immediately obvious that a curious pony foal might pick up a discarded dog poo bag, but this potentially fatal mistake by a very young pony actually happened just a couple of weeks ago. Had the distressed foal not been spotted and caught so that he could be saved, the story would have had a very tragic ending.
As I said at the beginning, livestock, wildlife, people and pets can generally get along quite nicely together. I hope this article might help to explain why we need to be careful and thoughtful when we are on Dartmoor, so that we can all enjoy the beauty, peace and soul restoring qualities of this most magical National Park.
N.B. Dartmoor Livestock Protection Officer – Karla McKechnie
If you see a pony, or any other livestock that is injured or ill, please call the Dartmoor Livestock Protection Officer on 07873 587561 (please put this phone number on your mobile phone)
Read more – www.dlps.org.uk
You can read more about the ponies on Dartmoor HERE.