EUROPEAN Union legislation forcing foals of semi-feral ponies to have to be microchipped have caused anger among Exmoor Pony owners.
The new rule means that from July 1, foals must be microchipped by the December 31 following their birth, or within six months of birth, whichever is later.
It affects not just ponies on Exmoor, but also those living wild on Dartmoor, in the New Forest, and on the Welsh mountains.
But there were fears the cost of the new measures could lead to foals becoming ill or dying if an owner was unable or unwilling to comply.
One pony owner, Sue Westwood, said: “If you are selling a £3,000 animal, you will not worry about paying an additional £70 to get it microchipped, but for a foal that sells for £50 to £100, it is too much.
“If vets cannot treat a foal unless it is chipped, then owners will not call them out.”
Valerie Sherwin, who runs the Moorland Mousie Trust charity which preserves and promotes the Exmoor Pony said: “I cannot see what good it is going to do from an identification point of view.
“You cannot read the chips unless you get right up to the pony and, bearing in mind these are wild animals, the only time that will happen is when they are rounded up in the autumn.
“If a pony is involved in a road accident, the first thing we need to know is what its brand number is, so the ponies will have to be branded as well.”
Mrs Sherwin said the system would be difficult to police and some owners could be tempted to ignore the regulation.
MP Roger Williams, who has opposed the EU regulation, said: “The new regulations could have a significant financial impact and result in the loss of ponies.”
A spokesman for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said a public consultation exercise on the new regulations was currently being carried out and would close on February 2.
The Defra spokesman said: “The draft legislation already contains derogations for ponies in the New Forest and on Dartmoor, so it may not be the case that all animals must be microchipped.
“Organisations involved in looking after semi-feral herds are encouraged to comment on the draft legislation.
“Microchipping provides an essential link between a horse and its passport and strengthens existing horse identification requirements.
“It may also prove useful for disease control and surveillance purposes and for the recovery of stolen horses.”
The Defra consultation document can be found at http://www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/equine-id/index.htm.