THE decision over a controversial plan to allow ponies to graze on a South Tyneside beauty spot is announced tomorrow.
Up to six Exmoor ponies are set to be transported onto Cleadon Hills in the winter months to eat grass, gorse, brambles and thistles.
However, the scheme has raised the hackles of dog walkers and others who use the hills.
A 120-name strong petition has been submitted to South Tyneside Council raising concerns dogs and ponies will not mix well together.
Protesters say their main concern is the safety implications for the ponies from youths riding mini-motorbikes, drinking and lighting fires.
Ahead of tomorrow’s West Shields and East Boldon Community Area Forum – to be staged at South Shields Town Hall from 5pm – one of the protesters, June McCleod, urged anyone who shared those concerns to attend.
She says it’s a “last chance” to force a U-turn with members being recommended to approve the scheme on a trial basis.
They will be told the use of ponies is the most cost-effective way of looking after the nature reserve.
It follows a fact-finding visit to Ryton Willows in Gateshead, where a similar grazing scheme already operates.
Mrs McCleod said: “We have gone to shops in Cleadon Village and every single person we have spoken to is against this scheme, and they all agreed to put our posters up. Yes, they went to Ryton, but nobody has spoken directly to anyone who actually uses Cleadon Hills.
“There is no guarantee it will even work and that the ponies will eat what they want them to eat.
“I think there is a large element of box-ticking in this proposal and I fear that minds may already be made up, but we still have one last chance to have our say, and I’d urge people to do so.
“At the end of the day our concerns are for the safety of the ponies.”
A report for tomorrow’s committee says: “The visit to Ryton re-iterated that the dogs and ponies can coexist in a site where this type of grazing scheme exists.
“As a result of these conclusions, the committee wish to recommend that the scheme commences on a trial basis, and that there is regular monitoring of the welfare of the horses, dog walkers and other users of Cleadon Hills, as well as the effectiveness of the grazing programme.
“Whilst the committee understands the concerns raised by current service users, it can find no compelling evidence that any potential problems could not be avoided through good management and monitoring.”
n Are ponies right for Hills? ... Page 6