CONTROVERSIAL plans to allow wild ponies to graze at a South Tyneside beauty spot have been given the go-ahead despite protests by concerned residents.
South Tyneside Council’s decision-making cabinet has approved a plan to use up to a dozen Exmoor ponies to maintain the environment at Cleadon Hills through conservation grazing.
Coun Tracey Dixon, who presented the report into the issue, said the pilot scheme would run from later this month until Easter, and again from November until Easter of next year.
She also sought to allay concerns over the welfare of the ponies and dogs being walked in the area as many people had expressed fears.
Coun Dixon said: “Dogs and ponies will generally ignore each other. But dogs should be kept on a lead in a public place.
“There have been no reports of anti-social behaviour in the area but if there are incidents involving the ponies we will remove them from the site.”
The animals will be provided through the Flexigraze scheme – a not for profit organisation which loans out animals for conservation – and will remain the responsibility of their owners.
Lynn Cooke, one of the residents who protested against the plan was upset by the decision.
She said: “It is an absolute disgrace. The council hasn’t listened to the public. This land was given as a gift to the people of South Tyneside. Now it will be partly fenced off.
“I have been taking my dogs there to walk twice a day for the past 16 years. But now that has ended. I am frightened of horses so I can’t go up again unless I am accompanied.
“They don’t know how a pony and a dog will react to each other. Some dogs will just ignore them, but others will run right at them, just like they are another dog. It isn’t safe.”
Fellow protester June Mcleod added: “We feel like the council isn’t interested in what we have to say. We handed in a petition with 162 names on it, objecting to the scheme, to the Cleadon and East Boldon Community Area Forum, but that wasn’t mentioned in the meeting.
“It just felt like a box-ticking exercise.”
Tony Cooke, another resident against the grazing plan, added: “This isn’t anything against the ponies. We just feel this is not the right location for them to be kept.”
Coun Dixon added: “Cleadon Hills Local Nature Reserve is a very popular site used by many people. It is also a site of special scientific interest (SSSI), which must be preserved and protected for the future.
“We know that historically the land was grazed by animals – a process which is proven to help the flowers and land to flourish, and will help us to restore and maintain the species-rich grassland. This approach has also been beneficial in other parts of the region.
“We would like to stress that the scheme is going ahead for a trial period, and will involve regular monitoring of the welfare of the horses and liaising with dog users of Cleadon Hills.
“At the end of the pilot, we will make an assessment to consider how we manage the site in the longer term.”