A CHARITY has welcomed influential visitors after it launched an important campaign last month. 

Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust (DPHT) welcomed visitors from Natural England to its Parke HQ, as they are carrying out an Independent Review of the moorland. 

The visit comes after the launch of the Mouths on the Moor campaign, which aims to redress the loss of heathland plants that are beiing taken over by purple moor grass and other aggressive species. 

Simon Lunniss, secretary to the Independent Review, and panel member Will Cockbain, a hill farmer in the Lake District, visited this month to hear the DPHT’s point of view on how best to manage a landscape that’s been grazed for centuries by ponies and livestock. 

Debbie Leach, CEO at DPHT, said it was a 'positive' visit. 

She said: "It allowed us to emphasise to Mr Lunniss and Mr Cockbain how important it is for the Government to work at a local level with hill farmers who understand the moorland landscape and the crucial role ponies native to Dartmoor can play in halting the further decline of this globally-important environment.

“They were interested in everything we had to say about how ponies graze and how they can help redress the balance of the natural environment on Dartmoor.  They have asked us to send them all the evidence we have to back up our view, including the raw data and the reports from the work we’ve done with Plymouth University, which document how the ponies eat the coarse Molinia grass but not the heather and bilberry.

“Unfortunately, the chairman of the Independent Review, David Fursdon, couldn’t come on this occasion but I’m told he is keen to visit our research site at Bellever. We will be fixing a date in the diary to take him there as soon as possible.”

Representatives of Natural England recently visited the Bellever site and now DPHT has been permitted to increase the number of grazing ponies there. Rather than the current average of 20, up to 30 ponies are now allowed over the winter and up to 40 in spring/summer.

“If the ponies native to Dartmoor and other livestock can once again access and effectively graze the aggressive species like purple moor grass and gorse, other plants will be able to re-establish," Debbie added.

"The benefits of this are multifold: it will help improve the overall health of the uplands by tackling the over-grazing of other habitats on Dartmoor, it will allow the re-creation of biodiverse heathland habitats that support a wide range of animal and plant species and it will safeguard the future of hill farmers whose livelihoods are suffering.”