Wild ponies have roamed the Welsh mountains for centuries, playing a vital role in mountain ecology and local culture
Every autumn, the wild Carneddau ponies of Wales are gathered off the mountain by the hill farmers whose land they graze. After a quick health check, they are released again to roam the 200sq km of wilderness that makes up the Carneddau plateau – the highest contiguous area of ground in England and Wales with seven peaks above 3,000ft.
It’s a ritual that has been part of village life for centuries. Once done on horseback, the gathering has now been modernised with quad bikes and remains a big social occasion.
“Painters, plumbers, electricians, people from the village who came as kids forty or fifty years ago, they all come up the hill to help,” said Gareth Wyn Jones, the sheep farmer whose family have been caring for the ponies for 375 years, since parish records began.
Believed to be the wildest ponies in Britain, they have been grazing these mountains since the Iron Age and the 220-strong herd is the last stronghold of the breed.
They play a vital role in the mountain ecology of the Snowdonia National Park, grazing on everything from rushes to gorse and Molinia, scraping the snow off the ground to feed themselves over winter, maintaining the habitat for the endangered red-billed chough.
“It’s just amazing to see these ponies grazing on the top of the mountain at 3,000ft,” said Wyn Jones. “They have adapted to the harsh conditions over hundreds of years. Man hasn’t been interfering with them, they’ve been left to their own devices. This is what makes them unique.”
Main image: Jim Tan
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