Welsh mountain ponies
John Cousins (February)
We came across this mountain pony while out for a lunch time run around Cwm Idwal.
Mountain ponies have grazed the Carneddau in Snowdonia for at least 500 years, and may even be descendents of the ancient Celtic pony but I have never seen them on the other side of the A5 in the Glyders before.
Farmers have kept mountain ponies on the hillsides for generations, and in the 19th century some were even sold as pit ponies to pull trains of coal. Now, however, they have little economic value, and when regulations came into force in 2005 requiring all ponies to have a chip and passport, there was a risk that farmers would not be willing to shoulder the financial burden.
It seems that CCW and Snowdonia National Park then stepped in with funding to ensure that the ponies could continue to graze on the Carneddau.
The ponies are smaller than other breeds, making them hardier and better able to survive the harsh weather. They live in herds of up to 30 mares to each stallion, which are rounded up in the winter so that foals aren't born too early in the year when there's not enough grass for them. Because they're only rounded up once per year, these are the closest thing to wild ponies in the UK.
Welsh mountain ponies also play an important role in maintaining the plant and insect diversity on the rugged mountain slopes. Unlike sheep, the ponies don't eat heather or wild flowers, so the rare upland heath on the summits will benefit, and hopefully in turn, so will birds such as peregrine, merlin, hen harrier and ring ouzel. Lower down the slopes, the ponies keep the grass short enough to provide suitable habitat for the chough. These rare crows also eat the beetle larvae which are found in the ponies' dung.