WALKERS and cyclists in the woods around Cinderford have come face to face with a new addition to the landscape - exmoor ponies.

A string of the hardy feral animals has been moved onto the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust reserve at Edgehills.

The hardy semi-feral breed is being introduced to the Forest of Dean in a bid to preserve natural grazing pasture from being overgrown.

Many grazing areas in the Forest have become overgrown following the cull of thousands of free roaming sheep during the 2001 foot and Mouth outbreak.

Kevin Caster, Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust’s reserves manager, said: “These ponies are managed by this organisation and have moved over from Poors Allotment in Tidenham.

“They have been specially selected for the project as they will eat the heather, gorse, bracken and brambles that other animals will not eat.

“The ponies are in a fenced enclosure in order to focus their grazing on the nature reserve, so that the heathland habitat evolving here continues to develop and foster a diverse range of species.

“People can still walk through the middle of the reserve on the forestry track, but the ponies are wild and should not be fed as they need to graze naturally.”

The exercise is being overseen by Foresters’ Forest, a Heritage Lottery Funded Landscape Partnership Scheme coordinating 50 projects within the Forest.