Families urged to be mindful of ponies at Cleadon Hills this winter
Families in South Tyneside are being asked to be mindful of the borough's equine friends this winter.
Exmoor ponies have recently returned to Cleadon Hills for the third winter in a row.
They are grazing the land there as part of South Tyneside Council's management of Cleadon Hills Local Nature Reserve.
The beauty spot is often a popular place for walking and sledging during the winter months, with snow-capped tress and blanket white hills making it a prime location for activities.
Large numbers of visitors are expected to enjoy the site, particularly following heavy snowfall.
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Council bosses are asking them, though, to enjoy the ponies - called Nifty, Berry, Bracken and Buttons – from a distance and avoid providing them with additional food.
Coun Moira Smith, lead member for area management and community safety at the council, said: “We are delighted to see the return of the ponies.
"They have proven to be a huge hit with visitors during the winter months and have become a welcome addition to what is a stunning landscape at any time of the year.
“Recent blizzard-like conditions brought snowfall to Cleadon Hills for the first time since the ponies were introduced on the land in 2015, and we know that snowfall brings more visitors to the site.
“With that in mind, we would like to remind people visiting this winter that it is important that they adhere to the signage in place and do not feed the ponies.
"Feeding them will not only detract them from doing their job of eating the vegetation but cause them to approach people for food and become a nuisance.
“Cleadon Hills is a beautiful place with room for everyone, ponies and people alike.
"The ponies can still be enjoyed as they graze the land, but preferably from a distance.”
The ponies returned to Cleadon Hills last month and will remain there until Easter, before returning again for next year’s winter season.
Coun Smith added: “We would like to reassure people that the ponies get plenty of food from the land, even when it is covered in snow.
"The ponies are a hardy native breed with thick winter coats and are equipped to break through snow for food so that no supplementary feeding is necessary.
"As they can tackle a wide range of vegetation and conditions, they are the ideal breed for conservation grazing.”
Exmoor ponies were introduced on the site as part of a conservation grazing scheme.
The beauty spot has been identified as a site of special scientific interest (SSSI), which needs to be protected, so the scheme is bidding to help preserve and protect the grassland.
The council says that using a small number of livestock to graze land is more effective than cutting grass along, as is produces a more diverse environmental result.
The land was historically grazed by animals, which is proven to enable flowers to flourish.