A TRIO of wild ponies are riding out of town – but it’s not the end for them on South Tyneside.
The Exmoor ponies were moved on to Cleadon Hill Nature Reserve in February as part of a council conservation grazing scheme.
Their arrival was met with protests and concerns over their safety – and the impact on dog walkers using the rural route.
But sisters, Maggie and Meggie, and four-legged friend Hairbell have proved a “mane” attraction to visitors.
South Tyneside Council rubber-stamped a deal to allow the ponies to roam the nature reserve until yesterday for a trial period, with a second trial getting under way in November.
Their purpose is to eat the grass, gorse, soft rush brambles and thistles in the area, which will save the council cash on maintaining the area.
The animals will join fellow ponies at a grazing spot in Prestwich, in Greater Manchester, before making the return trip to the borough later in the year.
Juliette Rogers, chairwoman of the Moorland Mousie Trust, which provided the animals, says she is delighted with the public response to the equine visitors.
Mrs Rogers said: “We have been delighted with how the ponies have been greeted.
“It’s been lovely. The ponies have been incredibly happy, the site infrastructure has improved and all litter in the area has been cleared up.
“There haven’t be any problems at all.
“Walkers have been happy to see the ponies, and they have attracted many people to Cleadon Hills just to come to see them.
“They have become a local attraction.”
Mrs Rogers is hopeful that the ponies will reside permanently at Cleadon Hills once the trial period is completed.
“They are now being taken off for the summer and will be back for the second part of the trial after Bonfire Night in November.
“The feedback from the public has been very positive.
“The ponies have been eating the grass too, so the scheme is working.
“It has been a big success, and if it continues, there is a good chance they will stay long-term.”
The initiative has been opposed by a number of Cleadon residents, including Coun Jeff Milburn, the Conservative representative for the Cleadon and East Boldon ward.
He expressed fears that dog walkers, who often let their pets off their lead on the hills, could encounter problems with the ponies, while litter such as empty cans and bottles, often left by youngsters, could also pose a danger to the animals.
He says the scheme has proved “absolute lunacy” – with a surge in visitors to Cleadon Hills sparking major traffic problems.
Coun Milburn said; “What we have is total lunacy. It is absolute madness.
“You have a lot of people coming to Cleadon Hills to feed the animals, even though there are massive signs saying not to do it.
“Sunniside Lane was a quiet area but now we have massive traffic all the time.”
A South Tyneside Council spokeswoman said: “The trial has come to its end, and overall there has been very positive response from the public.
“The Cleadon Hills area has also seen a number of new visitors to the site to see the ponies in their natural environment, and spend leisure time at this great site.
“The ponies will now go back to other grazing areas and will return in November, when we will be able to evaluate their effectiveness in maintaining the grass, gorse, soft rush brambles and thistles, in the area.”