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7th August, 2006

New pony centre to support preservation of Exmoor ponies

Monday 14:58

What could be more symbolic of Exmoor than an Exmoor pony? Yet, surprisingly enough, these ponies are actually classified as 'endangered' by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust with only 390 breeding females left in the UK. Now, thanks to support of a Rural Enterprise Grant (RES), administered locally by the South West Rural Development Service, a new Exmoor Pony Centre has been created at Ashwick, near Dulverton.

The new Centre will give an extra dimension to the work done by the Moorland Mousie Trust, a charity whose purpose is to promote the Exmoor Pony. Even though the pony is a strong heritage symbol of the Exmoor area, there were no facilities available for visitors and tourists to look at, handle and learn about the breed. The Trust secured the lease on a redundant farm building together with just under 7Ha of land with a further 56Ha of moorland made available by the Exmoor National Park, but needed help with the development costs for the Centre.

The RES grant supported the provision of a covered, all weather training and riding surface, a raised viewing gallery for spectators and visitors for lectures and demonstrations, facilities for pony care, saddlery, storage of feed and bedding, an office space for administration of the charity's work and a trekking operation.

Valerie Sherwin, Chief Executive of the Exmoor Pony Centre, said: "I have this absolute passion for Exmoor ponies and the development of the Centre means that visitors can find out more about the breed, see them, and trek on Exmoor on them to see other ponies in the wild. It means there are facilities for viewing, handling and training the ponies for a useful life - an important part of the Moorland Mousie Trust's work.

"Exmoor ponies are a fantastic breed, as despite being relatively small they were used extensively by Exmoor farmers before mechanization, for pulling carts and ploughs, and for transport. We're looking forward to introducing visitors to the delights of this special breed."

Exmoor pones are in decline, and the Moorland Mousie Trust takes surplus foals from the moor at weaning, handling them, and then placing them in permanent or foster homes until they are old enough to be trained as riding ponies. Since the Trust was formed in 2000, 140 Exmoor ponies have been successfully fostered. Some of the ponies are used to establish herds of conservation grazers in a wide range of reserves and country parks throughout Britain. There is currently a waiting list for them!

Helen Merchant, RDS adviser said: "This is great news for Exmoor as the initiative will create two full time jobs, plus seasonal positions within this very rural area. The new Exmoor Pony Centre should attract pony enthusiasts to the area and will be a wonderful window for the work of the charity. The fact that there is a waiting list for ponies as conservation grazers means that the work of the charity is actually supporting conservation measures throughout the South West and beyond. Our support means they can continue to progress in developing part of Exmoor's unique heritage."

OPEN DAY AT THE EXMOOR PONY CENTRE - AN OPPORTUNITY TO VIEW THE FACILITIES AND THE PONIES! Sunday 20 August - 09.30am - 04.30pm. Live demonstrations with ponies 10am, 12noon, 2pm and 4pm. For more details public can ring 01398 323093.

Friday, 30 June 2006 was the last date on which new applications could be accepted under the Rural Enterprise Scheme, the Processing and Marketing Grant, the Vocational Training Scheme and the Energy Crops (SRC) Producer Group Scheme.

The 30 June deadline does not apply to Objective 1 and LEADER+ funding; neither does it apply to Environmental Stewardship (Entry Level and Higher Level Schemes); nor does it relate to the Energy Crops Scheme Establishment Grants, the Hill Farm Allowance, or the English Woodland Grant Scheme.

Notes to editors

1. The Moorland Mousie Trust is a registered charity, which was established in May 2000, and is a non-profit making organisation. It was primarily set up to promote the Exmoor Pony, its welfare, raise awareness of its endangered status and reverse its decline by improving the economic viability of keeping and breeding the ponies on the moor. A typical pony stands at a maximum of 12.3hh, is bay, brown and dun in colour and carries characteristic mealy markings on the muzzle and around the eye and flanks. They are relatively easy to manage once tamed and are excellent grazers.

2. The Rural Enterprise Scheme (RES) is one of the schemes which operate under the England Rural Development Programme. Its coverage is wide-ranging with the primary aim being to help farmers adapt to changing markets and develop new business opportunities. RES also has a broader role in supporting the development of the rural economy, community, heritage and environment so other rural businesses, partnerships, companies and rural community groups are also eligible to receive funding.

3. Around £150 million of EU and Government money has been allocated to RES from April 2001 to 2006. The scheme is available throughout England, except in designated Objective 1 areas such as Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly where separate funding schemes apply.

4. RES which operate under the England Rural Development Programme (ERDP). The other schemes are:

Environmental Stewardship (a new scheme replacing the Countryside Stewardship, Environmentally Sensitive Areas and Organic Farming Schemes, which are now closed to new applicants). The scheme is designed to conserve England's countryside, securing widespread environmental benefits. Hill Farm Allowance (supporting sustainable farming in the English hills). English Woodland Grant Scheme (a new scheme replacing the Woodland Grant and Farm Woodland Premium Schemes). The scheme aims to encourage planting of new woodland and maintenance of existing woodland. Energy Crops Scheme (encouraging renewable energy production). Rural Enterprise Scheme (supporting a diversified and enterprising rural economy). Vocational Training Scheme (improving occupational skills of farmers). Processing and Marketing Grant (improving agricultural processing and marketing infrastructure).

5. Further information about these and other schemes within the ERDP are available from your local Rural Development Service (RDS) office. See:

http://www.defra.gov.uk/erdp/regions/default.htm

6. The administration of approved project cases under the Rural Enterprise Scheme, the Processing and Marketing Grant, the Vocational Training Scheme and the Energy Crops (SRC) Producer Group Scheme is planned to transfer from the Rural Development Service to Regional Development Agencies at the end of September 2006.

Friday, 30 June 2006 was the last date on which new applications were accepted under these schemes. Agreement holders affected by this change can be assured that this will not result in any changes to the terms and conditions of the grant award; details of the revised administrative arrangements will be sent out nearer the time.

These changes are an important part of Defra's Rural Strategy 2004 to simplify funding for rural areas and better target it to the needs of rural people and businesses in each region. For further details on the Rural Strategy please see

http://www.defra.gov.uk/rural/strategy/default.htm.

7. Under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act, English Nature, the Rural Development Service and the Countryside Agency's Landscape, Access and Recreation Division are working towards integration as a single body: Natural England. It will work for people, places and nature with responsibility for enhancing biodiversity, landscapes and wildlife in rural, urban, coastal and marine areas; promoting access, recreation and public wellbeing, and contributing to the way natural resources are managed - so they can be enjoyed now and for future generations.

English Nature is the independent Government agency that champions the conservation of wildlife and geology throughout England.

The Rural Development Service is the largest deliverer of the England Rural Development Programme and a range of advisory and regulatory rural services. With the administration of a multi-million pound grant budget for schemes which support land management, rural businesses and rural communities, the Rural Development Service is the single largest organisation working for the benefit of rural areas in England.

The Countryside Agency's Landscape, Access and Recreation Division aims to help everyone respect, protect and enjoy the countryside - protecting natural landscapes; and encouraging access to, enjoyment of and sustainable management and use of the countryside

Issued on behalf of the Rural Development Service by Government News Network

Part of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Client ref 1005/SWW06

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