A project to bring rare Exmoor pony bloodlines back to the moor has been a resounding success, says the Exmoor Pony Society.

As guardians of the breed, the Society registers pure-bred ponies in the official studbook.

Exmoor Pony Society chairman Nigel Hill said: “Several rare lines had either disappeared or had been severely reduced from the breeding stock on the moor.

"Fortunately these lines were still represented by animals living away from the moor and with the help of breeders, and with a lot of goodwill, several ponies were returned to their ancestral home.

“These ponies have been bred from and their offspring have even been able to help create new herds. What a fantastic achievement this has been and we should be proud of their efforts to help secure this fabulous breed.”

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Just 50 moorland ponies survived World War 2 and, while the breed is still officially ‘endangered’, there are now more than 4000 registered ponies on Exmoor and across the world.

However some bloodlines have been missing on the moor for decades, including the Moth bloodline which was close to extinction. Once a line becomes extinct, it cannot be recreated.

Exmoor Pony Society established the Exmoor Committee of Herd Owners (ECHO), a sub-committee to discuss moorland matters. Coordinated by Society trustee and herd owner Rob Taylor and wife Sarah, ECHO launched an initiative to reintroduce certain bloodlines to the moor. Thanks to their hard work, the structure of the breed’s gene pool on the moor is starting to look much healthier.

A young stallion bred in Scotland carries one of the very rarest bloodlines. He spent some time on the moor and sired 15 foals before returning north of the border. Two mares from a non-breeding conservation grazing herd managed by the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust are also on the moor as a breeding loan.

While ECHO still has work ahead of them, with two of the remaining 26 pure-bred bloodlines still close to extinction, the overall success of the initiative will ensure even the rarest Exmoor ponies will remain on the moor for generations to come.