A charity has reassured people over the welfare of the ponies at Cleadon Hill - after being inundated with concerns from residents.
The Moorland Mousie Trust, a charity working to promote and protect the endangered rare-breed Exmoor pony, has confirmed that the ponies on the beauty spot are thriving despite the recent cold weather.
The animals were brought to the area several years ago following public consultation, as part of a scheme which saw South Tyneside Council agree to use the animals as a way of ‘naturally’ managing the grassland area by having them grazing it during the winter months.
Following last week’s harsh weather and freezing conditions, many people have expressed their concerns about their welfare to the charity - asking whether they being checked, if they have shelter and if they are they getting hay.
Juliet Rogers, trustee of the Moorland Mousie Trust, said: “These ponies are Exmoor ponies and they do incredibly well in the harshest of conditions. They have developed special features to withstand severe weather which are unique to the breed.
“There is plenty of shelter at Cleadon such as stone walls and hawthorn patches which the ponies use to good effect.
“They are also not bothered by people, as long as people don’t bother them and they can get away to quieter areas of the hill.”
She added: “They dig through the snow to eat the grass underneath.”
The charity said, before arriving in Cleadon, the ponies lived high on the North Pennines in all weather with no ill effects.
They have special features to cope in the cold conditions which include a special pad of fat to protect their eyes, a snow shute tail and a double layered coat.
The ponies are also checked every day by volunteers, council staff and the Moorland Mousie Trust, who ensure that any ice is broken in the water trough.
Juliet added: “If these ponies don’t lose a bit of weight in the winter, they get a disease called Laminitis in the summer due to them being too fat.
“This is an agonizing condition so its important they follow a natural cycle of weight loss followed by weight gain when the grass starts to grow.
“Well meaning people feeding these ponies does not help them and they can easily be poisoned by the wrong things.
“These ponies have a life because of conservation grazing and because councils and wildlife trusts use them.”