New Forest Ponies To Get The Pill?

Wild ponies are to be given contraceptives in a bid to control their numbers in what is believed to be the first scheme of its kind in the UK.

The pilot programme, dubbed the ''pony pill'', will be carried out on Dartmoor next spring after the market for foals born in the national park in Devon was hit by the recession in recent years.

Charlotte Faulkner, from the Friends of the Dartmoor Hill Pony organisation, said it was being forced to introduce the £12,000 project to avoid having to send young unsold ponies - which are driven off the moor and sold every year - being sent straight for slaughter.

She said that if the population is not controlled, farmers could drive the ponies off their land, destroying the unique moorland habitat.

''We are trialling the scheme to see if it has the advantages that we need,'' she said.

''I have been looking for a possible method of contraception for more than 10 years and this is the first time we have found something which is suitable.

''The gene pool of Dartmoor ponies is very important because they are so hardy, ponies that are not from Dartmoor can die up there after only three weeks.

''If we lose the ponies off Dartmoor we will lose things like the fritillary butterflies, if we lose the ponies we won't have the same habitat.''

A group of 20 mares will be the first to receive the contraceptive injection next spring. If it works, it will stop them coming into season next year.

The first batch of the drug has been donated by pharmaceuticals company Pfizer and imported from Australia, but money is needed to pay for research into its effectiveness. Ms Faulkner said she has already sold her horse lorry to contribute towards it.

If successful, it is hoped that the scheme could be extended to help pony populations in places like Exmoor and the New Forest, where numbers have to be controlled to maintain the flora and fauna living there.