Carneddau ponies- wildlife warriors from Snowdonia National Park

20 June 2019

Hilary Kehoe of PONT Cymru and farmer tells us about the work of Snowdonia's carneddau ponies conserving the landscapes of the National Park. 

The Carneddau Mountain range in the Snowdonia National Park is home to a small population of around 300 semi-feral Carneddau ponies whose history is thought to date back to the Bronze Age. Although they are not designated as a rare breed, they are genetically distinct from the Welsh Mountain pony and carry genes specifically related to hardiness and waterproofing.

Photocredit: PONT Cymru

They are slightly smaller than the Section A Welsh Mountain (a more widely spread breed pony) standing at around 10 to 11 hands high, with a sturdy body, small ears shaped like sage leaves and big personalities!

The Carneddau herd ranges over nearly 13,500 acres or 20 square miles of common between Bethesda, Llanfairfechan, Capel Curig and Conwy, which includes mountains over 3,000 feet high, bogs, cliffs, rocky slopes and lakes. The scenery is spectacular and the ponies know every inch of it. They are owned and managed by the Carneddau Pony Society - a group of farmers from Bethesda and Llanfairfechan who are supported through a management agreement with Natural Resources Wales that helps them to maintain the herd, grazing to benefit wildlife on the mountains, from Chough to Dung beetles.

The ponies graze differently from sheep and have a wider, diet than domestic ponies, they will eat soft rush, Molinia, gorse and mountain grasses. Their grazing and trampling help to keep bracken and gorse under control, create pathways and maintain the landscape of the mountains.

The ponies gather in herds. Photo credit: PONT Cymru

Under the agreement the herd numbers must be kept steady to avoid overgrazing so draft mares, colt foals and surplus fillies are sold off each year. In the past they were sold as pit ponies but current economics now mean they have little value so the graziers needed to find new buyers.

This is where Pori, Natur a Threftadaeth (PONT), Wales’s grazing organisation, came in.

I work for PONT in North Wales, working with farmers and landowners to manage land to promote wildlife through grazing; I also have a farm and run sheep on the Carneddau so I have always enjoyed seeing the ponies on the common. I am very keen to preserve the breed and its unique genetics - I can see how they work for conservation and how vital their role is in the cultural heritage of the area and preserving the uplands.

Working with organisations such as the North Wales Wildlife Trust, National Trust, Local Councils, RSPB and private individuals and farmers we have found 200 of these ponies jobs and homes across Wales and England over the last 10 years. They are great for helping to manage a range of habitats, from fens to dunes to heathlands and grassland because they are able to eat coarse grass, produce dung to benefit birds and insects, are extremely hardy and, being semi-feral, don’t bother the public.

I liaise with the Carneddau Society and help with the annual gather in November. This takes place over 3 weekends and involves all the farmers and their families, local pony enthusiast volunteers, quad bikes, Landrovers and lots of walking. Once they are down on their farms the surplus animals are sorted for sale. The rest of the herd has a health check, a tail trim to show they have been gathered and is returned to the mountains.

During the year PONT staff collect sites across Wales that are in need of conservation grazing management and are not suitable for cattle- maybe they are in a high TB area or local people are not keen on cows. We match suitable ponies with organisations and sites. Sometimes we handle them lightly in a round pen to train them to be head collared and loaded into trailers but we don’t tame them like a domestic pony as they need to behave naturally and not interact with walkers.

It is great for PONT to be part of the Carneddau pony management and to help the herd to continue and an added bonus to see them having a positive effect on land from their home in Snowdonia to the Llŷn peninsula, Gower, Wrexham, Anglesey and beyond.

By Hilary Kehoe

Pori, Natur a Threftadaeth (PONT),

For more information see: www.carneddauponies.co.uk or e-mail Hilary Kehoe: hilary.kehoe@pontcymru.org