A DARTMOOR pony charity has raised concerns that new legislation in equine passports could lead to the cancellation of annual drifts sales resulting in a ‘death sentence’ for hundreds of ponies on the moor — but DEFRA has hit back to say these claims are ‘completely false’.

Charlotte Faulkner, founder of Friends of the Dartmoor Hill Pony and vice chair of the Dartmoor Hill Pony Association, claims that incorrect wording used in a document which was ratified into UK law on Monday could mean around 200 ponies are facing an ‘uncertain future’.

Foals are currently being gathered off the moor to be sorted and sold at the annual drift sale in Chagford on October 11.

Charlotte said that previously a special derogation was given to semi-feral ponies to allow them to leave the sale site for their new homes without a physical passport because of the nature of semi-feral pony herds, but with the new legislation, ponies must now be issued with a passport between the sale ring and leaving the sale site.

She said this was ‘impractical’ and would require an ‘entire purpose-built office and equipment being moved from Sussex to a field on Dartmoor for one day’.

She highlighted that the ‘lack of attention to detail’ in transposing this legislation had led to fears that the drift sales would not go ahead and would result in forcing pony herders to ‘shoot some 200 foals’ in order to apply with the Natural England quotas of the number of ponies allowed on the moor.

Charlotte said: ‘This is a preventable tragedy if only DEFRA were prepared to put a little more thought into the wording of this document. It will be hugely embarrassing for Michael Gove and DEFRA to reverse this ratification and have the blood of 200 ponies on their hands, all for the sake of a few misinformed phrases.’

However, a spokesperson for DEFRA (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) said: ‘It is completely false to claim the new regulations are a death sentence to semi-wild ponies in the UK — these regulations are part of our work to ensure we have the highest animal welfare standards in the world.

‘We have worked closely with those impacted by these new regulations to ensure a smooth transition. It is now for those responsible for the ponies to decide the approach that best meets their needs while also complying with the minimum requirements.’

They said under the new regulation, all feral horses must now be correctly identified before they are moved, such as with an equine passport. In the case of an equine moving to another holding, it may be moved on a passport and a rump sticker. A microchip must then be arranged within 30 days of arrival.

DEFRA said it ran a six-week consultation and considered all feedback. The Equine Identification Regulations 2018 were laid out before Parliament this summer and came into effect on Monday (October 1), which set out provisions applying to wild or semi-wild ponies on Dartmoor, Exmoor, New Forest and Wicken Fen.

The spokesperson added: ‘We recognise the diversity of opinion that may mean that some people do not agree with the rules.

‘As much flexibility as possible is afforded to those responsible for equines and the rules as a whole are designed to advance equine welfare, health and to tackle related matters.’